Grafton Ghosts’ Daniel Roberts holds up Byron Bay’s Tobin Cupples in a recent game.
Grafton Ghosts’ Daniel Roberts holds up Byron Bay’s Tobin Cupples in a recent game.

Byron 'the team to beat'

GRAFTON Ghosts coach Col Speed installed the Byron Bay Red Devils as ‘the team to beat’ despite his unbeaten side’s solid, yet unspectacular 24-4 win against them at Red Devil Park yesterday in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League.

The Red Devils were forced to play most of the match with just 12 men after their captain Clarence Kelly was sent off for an errant elbow in a tackle on Ghosts fullback Anthony Don.

Send-offs in the NRRRL are something of a rarity, but Kelly received his marching orders after opening up a wound in Don’s head which Speed believed would probably require stitches.

“I didn’t see the incident, but it was not real good,” Speed said.

“He (Don) has a nasty split in his head.”

Yet, even in victory, Speed was gracious enough to say how well Byron Bay had played with 12 men and rated them the team to beat as the NRRRL finals race hots up.

“I thought we were very ordinary – no disrespect to them because they were very good considering they had a man missing for most of the game,” he said.

“Defensively, I was very happy with how we played, but our attack still needs some improvement.

“We need a lot more contact and aggression.”

Byron Bay began the game in spectacular fashion, Scott Stapleton scoring the first try within four minutes, as the Red Devils poured on the pressure with successive sets of six inside Grafton’s territory.

But Kelly’s send-off a short time later and a hamstring injury to fullback Bill Lowries took two of Byron Bay’s key attacking weapons out of the game and from then on it became a bit of a struggle.

Ghosts did what they should have in attack, keeping possession, spreading the ball wide and making the Red Devils chew up a lot of tackles and energy in the sapping heat.

Don recovered from Kelly’s high shot to score Grafton’s first try then Byron Bay held on stoutly until Ghosts’ Khan Williams rattled on what could only be described as two ‘tired’ tries late in the second half as the Red Devils’ initial fight began to wane.

It was a better effort by Byron Bay after the break and for about 30 minutes there was no advance on the 14-4 half-time deficit.

But with no fit players left on the interchange bench and several playing on one leg, the Red Devils were only as good as their first line of defence and once that was broken they didn’t have anyone left with enough gas in the tank to chase the Ghosts speedsters.

Winger Carson Galloway raced about 80 metres to score one try and Don did the same for Ghosts a short time later as the final scoreline blew out to 24-4.

Red Devils coach Simon Kelly was sucking in the big breaths after the game and looked absolutely exhausted as he paid tribute to his beaten and bruised team.

“The guys showed a lot of guts, it was a courageous effort, we copped a couple of tries at the end there which did not accurately reflect the closeness of the contest,” Kelly said.

“It was very tough losing Clarence so early and then losing Bill. They are two of our key strike weapons and it just made it very tough for us to come back from that.

“We have some tough games ahead of us and it looks like we have copped a couple of injuries, so we are going to have to re-group and see what we can do in the next couple of weeks.”

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