Ghosts end Byron Bay's title defence
GRAFTON Ghosts ended a three-match losing streak against the Byron Bay Red Devils with a 40-8 victory in the NRRRL minor preliminary semi-final at Frank McGuren Park, Grafton, on Saturday.
More than 12 months had passed since Ghosts last beat the Red Devils, but they finally exacted revenge, knocking their grand final nemesis from last season out of the competition.
It was also the first time this year Ghosts had overcome a top-five side.
“It sunk in when the game finished and I saw their body language and I saw what they were going through,” Ghosts first-grade coach Col Speed said.
“And I guess we went through that same stage last year, and it just kicked in. The boys really left their best to last.”
In a commanding seven-tries-to-one performance, Ghosts dismantled the Red Devils, producing mistake-free football built on free-flowing attack and crushing defence.
The game was not without controversy, with referee Troy Martin sending three players to the sin bin and, at one time, the Red Devils were reduced to 11 men.
Byron coach Nathan Cross was furious at the full-time hooter, wondering whether the two-hour trip south had been worth the effort.
“In the end, Grafton were probably more hungry and the better side,” he said.
“But unfortunately there was a bloke in the middle who thought people were here to watch him and not the game. When we heard who the referee was - and I don't say this lightly - I nearly didn't put the boys on the bus.”
To be fair, Martin blew nearly 10 penalties apiece in an often spiteful match.
However, the scoreline belied a tough first 40 min-utes where the opposing defences traded blows.
Byron's Duane Cahill scored the first points from a penalty goal, but tries to Shaun Davison and Rhys Walters gave the hosts a slender 8-2 half-time lead.
But with Red Devils hooker Eli Colby joining team-mate Seb Lamilla in the bin at the start of the second half, it was only a matter of time before the flood gates opened.
And the visitors' worst fears were soon realised, with Aaron Hartmann, Adam Elliott and Carson Galloway scoring the next three tries.
Byron's Ryan O'Connell reduced the deficit slightly, but further tries to Dan Roberts and Aaron Taylor, combined with Taylor's prolific boot, secured a stunning Ghosts victory.
However, there was still time for Khan Williams to show the best and worst side of his prodigious ability - following up a superb try-saving tackle with a 10-minute stint in the bin.
Despite Williams' sin bin and a late injury scare to Hartmann, Ghosts completed their best match of the season in front of a packed home crowd.
“Our defence was spot-on, the attitude was there all the time,” Speed said.
“I thought the first half was scrappy … each side was going hand for hand, waiting for one side to crack.
“But in the second half we were patient and got what we wanted.”