Dean French playing for Ballina against Byron Bay earlier in the season.
Dean French playing for Ballina against Byron Bay earlier in the season.

Forwards fronting up

BALLINA front-rowers Dean French and Greg Ryan need to pass a fitness test to play in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League minor semi-final against Byron Bay today.

Both missed last weekend's game through injury but should return for the sudden-death encounter at Byron Bay along with fullback Nikko Roberts.

"They have to pass a fitness test but I dare say they will play," Seagulls coach Greg Barnes said.

"It's gone from one extreme to the other with blokes available this week but it's a welcome head-ache."

There hasn't been much between the two sides this season with each having a win over the other.

Byron Bay have big forwards while the Seagulls' pack is the smallest but arguably the fittest in the competition.

Throw in the fact that Ballina has the best player on the Northern Rivers in halfback Andrew Battese and they have to be taken seriously.

Red Devils coach Tobin Cupples revealed that of the teams remaining in the competition, Ballina was the one they feared most.

"They'll come at us all day and it's going to be a nail-bitter," he said.

"All we've thought about after last weekend is Ballina and we know they are a team that has plenty of spirit."

The Red Devils have lost fullback Adam Gordon (concussion) and second-rower Jason Hackett (knee) but will be boosted by the return of lock Ben Webber.

Webber played the opening rounds of the competition before a stint in the United States.

Ballina have been one of the success stories of the season after finishing near the bottom in 2011.

They have beaten every team in the competition except Murwillumbah and would love nothing more than to get another chance at the Mustangs and Ghosts.

"It's a credit to the players that we've been able to turn things around this season," Barnes said.

"We were a new team that came together and we've developed into a tight-knit group.

"We'll have the underdog tag for the rest of the season and we don't mind that."

 

HOW THEY LINE UP FOR THE NRRRL MINOR SEMI-FINAL

BYRON BAY: Fullback, Bill Lowrie; wingers, Duane Cahill, James Harrington; centres, Clarence Kelly, Chris King; five-eighth, Jared De Thierry; halfback, Brent Peterson; props, Simon Kelly, Chris Coleman; hooker, Cale Rowston; second-rowers, Peter Flannery, Luke Pettit; lock, Scott Sattler. Coach: Tobin Cupples.

BALLINA: Fullback, Nikko Roberts; wingers, Chris Dooley, Tyrone Kelly; centres, Dan Gibson, Luke Simpson; five-eighth, Ally Grant; halfback, Andrew Battese; props, Dean French, Greg Ryan; hooker Jess Perry; second-rowers, Simon Perkins, Alwyn Roberts; lock Kane Montgomery. Coach: Greg Barnes.

Reserve grade: Murwillumbah v Northern United.   Under-18s: Ballina v Marist Brothers.



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