UP FOR THE CHALLENGE: A file picture of Brad Lees making a break for Byron Bay in the NRRRL this season. The fullback is hoping to play in the Queensland Cup next year.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE: A file picture of Brad Lees making a break for Byron Bay in the NRRRL this season. The fullback is hoping to play in the Queensland Cup next year.

Brad’s Bay’s best

BYRON BAY coach Nathan Cross is resigned to losing star fullback Brad Lees for next season as the Red Devils prepare for a massive showdown with minor premiers Lower Clarence at Maclean tomorrow in Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League.

Lees has been in outstanding form for the defending premiers and Cross believes the Ballina junior has a future at higher levels.

“He’s worked really hard in the off-season in the gym and with his speed work, and he’s quite deceiving because he is quite big and strong but also quick,” the Byron coach said.

“The hard work he’s done is really starting to bear fruit. He’s probably looking to go to the Queensland Cup next season, maybe with the Tweed Seagulls.

“Mentally he’s totally up for the challenge. I’m trying to help find him an opportunity up there as well.”

Lees crossed over from Ballina last season to join the Red Devils and he has developed into one of the best fullbacks in the competition.

He is assured under the high ball, a solid defender and a destructive runner in the middle of the ruck.

However, it’s in broken play that the custodian really shines.

Lees has a technically pure running style that makes him look more like a 100m runner than a rugby league player.

“He’s been miles and miles our most consistent player all year and I was keen for him to come across from Ballina after I’d seen him play a few games for them,” Cross said.

“His commitment to the game and his work ethic – he does extras all week – is outstanding.”

The big fullback’s form, and in particular his cover defence, could go a long way to deciding how the
Red Devils fare tomorrow.

With Lower Clarence likely to make at least a few line breaks, the way Lees and his outside men cover the exciting Magpies’ attack will be worth watching.

There is much riding on the match for the Bay.

Win, and they are assured of a home minor semi-final against Grafton Ghosts next weekend.

Lose, and should Ghosts defeat the Tweed Coast Raiders, Grafton could steal the home ground advantage with a better points differential.

“We don’t really want to be going down the highway two weeks in a row,” Cross said.

“We have plenty to play for, so we should be up for it.”

In good news for Byron, five-eighth Tobin Cupples has recovered from an ankle injury but he will be shifted to the centres with Dean Allen coming back into pivot.

Meanwhile, Mullumbimby have rushed veteran Troy Johnstone into halfback to cover for the injured Chase Nelson for their game against the Cudgen Hornets at Kings-cliff tomorrow.

The Giants need the premiership points to retain second spot and a home semi-final against Northern United next weekend.

Johnstone, a premiership winner with the Giants in 2007, played with Casino and Ballina before joining the Giants and he was thought to be retired from the top grade.

However, the tough-as-teak playmaker has gone around in reserve grade this year and answered an SOS call from coach Wayne Cullen.

“He’s been there and done that, and that sort of experience really shows when you go into semi-final football,” Cullen said.

“This will be his first first-grade game all year but he’s been playing reserve grade and been a big influence on how they’re going, especially with Bernard Browning out.”

Mullum have also welcomed back five-eighth Scott Hogan after a two-week suspension for dissent.

Competition points: Lower Clarence 30, Mullumbimby 26, Northern United 26, Byron Bay 24, Grafton Ghosts 22, Tweed Coast Raiders 20, Grafton Rhinos 20, Cudgen 18, Ballina 14, Murwillumbah 10, Casino RSM 9, Marist Brothers 7, Kyogle 7, Evans Head 5.

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