Seagulls confident they can win
NOT since the mighty Marist Brothers teams of the 1990s has a club been so favoured to take out a top-grade rugby league decider.
But the Ballina Seagulls insist they can bust the Ghosts in enemy territory when the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League has its showpiece day at Frank McGuren Park tomorrow.
It will be the fourth time the Seagulls have met Ghosts in 2010 – the cumulative score is 138-16 to Grafton's men in white and blue.
But the Seagulls are hoping the pressure of the occasion might get to their undefeated opponents.
That would be a story the Ballina club is all too familiar with.
Something similar happened to them in the recent past.
It's the grand final nightmare that still disturbs captain Ben Crawford in his sleep.
Andrew Battese and Ed Killingbeck, too.
It's the 2007 NRRRL decider: Seagulls v Mullumbimby at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina.
After trailing 18-14 at half-time in a match where the combatants went try-for-try, the Seagulls stole the ascendency late in the second half.
With about 10 minutes to play a bullocking 40-metre try from Killingbeck, converted by Battese, opened a seemingly unassailable 30-22 lead – the biggest of the match.
The Seagulls had it in the bag. Their first premiership since 1993.
Or so they thought.
Then came the scenes that still play out in the heads of Crawford, Battese and Killingbeck – the only survivors from that 2007 horror show.
With four minutes to play, Giants halfback Scott Hogan takes matters into his own hands: he chips, he chases, he regathers and scores a 55-metre pearler to keep the grand final alive at 30-28.
Then with two minutes to play the Giants put it all on the line.
At the end of a backline shift, winger Jy Hitchcock finds himself in space and weights a perfect kick into the in-goal area.
And as if it was scripted, Mullumbimby captain Murray Brown is first on the scene to flop on the loose ball and seal a memorable win for the Giants that would give the Seagulls nightmares for years to come.
Ballina assistant coach Greg Barnes watched from the sidelines that day.
“We know how it feels to have a grand final wrapped up in front of a home crowd and lose,” he said.
“You could hear a pin drop when they scored that last try.
“It was a heart-breaker.”
Captain Crawford was one of the hardest hit.
“It was a horrible feeling, something I don't ever want to experience again,” he said.
And tomorrow from 2.45pm, Crawford, Battese, Killingbeck and the rest have the chance to heap that same misery on Grafton Ghosts.