DEVIL MAY CARE: Byron Bay hooker Ben Webber gets the treatment from the Northern United defence in the NRRRL clash in Lismore last Sunday. Northern United won a tough battle 32-30.
DEVIL MAY CARE: Byron Bay hooker Ben Webber gets the treatment from the Northern United defence in the NRRRL clash in Lismore last Sunday. Northern United won a tough battle 32-30. Marc Stapelberg

Gulls, Giants in top NRRRL clash

A CLASH between two of the form teams over the opening rounds headlines NRRRL games tomorrow, with Ballina to host Mullumbimby at Kingsford Smith Park.

No team has got within 18 points of the undefeated Seagulls in the first month – but that could be misleading because the four teams they have beaten have won only two of a possible 16 games between them.

And while Mullumbimby have also cast aside some of the strugglers, last week they knocked off Brothers, who were undefeated.

It all points to an interesting match-up and 20-year-old Seagulls hooker-cum-halfback Andrew Battese could be the key.

Battese, who has spent time in the Gold Coast Titans system, has lit up the right side of Ballina’s attack since moving permanently to halfback.

His goal-kicking boot has been radar-like and he has already bagged a swag of tries including two hat-tricks.

Tomorrow he will link with local juniors Dan and Matt Gibson on the right flank as he looks to continue his – and Ballina’s – hot streak.

But he will be missing one of his short-ball targets – young back-rower Dane Clarke has been felled with ankle ligament damage and could miss more than a month.

Meanwhile, the Giants have retained a largely unchanged line-up that sees them third on the NRRRL ladder behind Ballinaand Grafton Ghosts.

In other NRRRL action tomorrow:

Byron Bay will look to get the ball rolling again when they host Cudgen.

Both sides are three-from-four with the winner to stay in the top five while the loser will drop a few rungs.

Bill Lowrie will be missing again with a troublesome hamstring but has been replaced by 2008 premiership-winning custodian Tobin Cupples.

Centre Brad Lees has been outed for two weeks for striking in the narrow loss to Northern United, while captain Simon Kelly returns to his preferred back-row position.

Marist Brothers have strengthened their backline for a clash with the unpredictable Grafton Rhinos at Crozier Field, Lismore.

Chris DeGiusti returns at fullback and Dylan Coleman wins back his spot in the run-on side after impressing from the bench in the loss at Mullumbimby last weekend.

Injuries to props Cameron Paine and Mick McClellend have forced coach David Krause to shift Simon Andrews to the front-row in order to combat the giant Rhinos pack.

Northern United face the toughest task in the NRRRL – knocking off Grafton Ghosts at Grafton.

Destructive back-rower Willo James will miss the match with a sternum injury. He was one of the Dirawongs’ best last Sunday but is ably replaced by Marshall Leisha.

When asked how he would instruct his squad to attack the big match-up, coach Chris Binge was typically laidback.

“Our game plan is to go out and have a good time – hopefully we come away with a result,” Binge said.

Tweed Coast Raiders will smell blood in the water as Lower Clarence visit with both teams searching for their first win.

All Sunday games start at 2.45pm.

In the only game today, Evans Head host Murwillumbah, also starting at 2.45pm.

On Thursday night, Casino grabbed their first win of 2010 with a 36-12 victory over Kyogle in the Local Derby Shield.

English hooker James Barker scored a hat-trick of tries in the physical encounter with props Jacob Ngauomo and Chris McGrath laying the platform for Casino.

Kyogle scored first to lead 6-0 but the Cougars struck soon after and never looked back, building a 20-6 half-time lead.

Casino finished with eight tries to Kyogle’s two – the margin would have been much greater but Matt Roberts had a wayward night with the boot, converting just twice.

Casino coach Dene Petty said the win would give his club a springboard into the season.

“That was the best we have played all year, by far,” Petty said.

“Hopefully a good week at training will see us come out and do it again next week.”



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