Heart attack forces United's close call
NORTHERN United will be without exciting young winger Stevie Close for the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League preliminary final tomorrow after he had a mild heart attack.
Close, 23, who has been one of the team's leading try-scorers this season, was taken to hospital a day after the Dirawongs' loss to Mullumbimby in the major preliminary semi-final.
“He spent a couple of days in Lismore Base,” United coach Chris Binge said.
“It was the day after the Mullumbimby game and he actually thought he had pulled a muscle in his chest.
“So obviously he's out for the rest of the season.
“He's out of hospital now and came to our game against Grafton last weekend.
“As you know he's played a big part of our season and he's been great for us.
“We don't know if he'll be back next year; he'll have to do the right thing by the doctors.
“He's a sensational kid. You couldn't ask for a better young bloke, so touch wood he'll be okay.”
Binge said the emotion around Close's illness would not be used as motivation for the do-or-die encounter against the Giants, with whom they have had two fiery clashes resulting in United finishing down at least one player.
In the first game it didn't matter because the Dirawongs prevailed, but United lost two players in the major preliminary semi-final and it played a big part in their loss.
“This weekend has to be about the simple things, playing footy and getting results,” Binge said.
“We have to congratulate Mullum for showing us how to play footy. They ran second and are a very disciplined footy team.
“We've learned a lesson from Mullum and we're keen to play footy this weekend and be very disciplined.
“We have to give ourselves every opportunity to be in the game.”
Binge will decide between Stu Cohen, Clarence Kelly and Terry Kelly to fill his two wing spots.
Meanwhile, Mullumbimby coach Wayne Cullen has his own head-aches, with centre Glen Godbee, halfback Chase Nelson and prop Adam McKenzie facing fitness tests.
Godbee (quad strain) and Nelson (knee) have been out for a few weeks but McKenzie (knee) was injured in the Giants' loss to Lower Clarence last Sunday.
“We're pretty much waiting to see how they come up,” Cullen said.
“On Tuesday they didn't train real well so we'll have to see but we've had a squad of 21 for a while now so we'll be right.”
In the absence of Godbee and Nelson, Jay Hampson has played in the centres with the experienced Troy Johnstone running the show at halfback.
Aside from his injury concerns, Cullen said he was wary of United should they retain their discipline.
“I'm hoping it's a good clean game,” he said.
“If United turn up to play football then the spectators are in for a great game.
“It's our last game against United this year so I hope it's a good one for 80 minutes.”
Cullen said there would be no game plan change from the Giants, who have tried to grind teams down through the middle with their outstanding forward pack.
He also believes his side needs to adjust its mental game after falling away against the Magpies last weekend.
“Lower just wanted it more and a few of our blokes weren't on their game,” Cullen said.
“We don't have that extra game up our sleeve now, so we need to come up trumps.”
Preliminary finals at Les Donnelly Field,
Mullumbimby, on Sunday
Under-18s from 11.30am
First grade: Mullumbimby v Northern United
Mullumbimby: Fullback, Murray Brown; wingers, Chad Grant, Corey Poole; centres, Jay Hampson, Jason Willis; five-eighth, Scott Hogan; halfback, Troy Johnston; props, Dan Molenaar, Luke Scott; hooker, Scott Gibson; second-rowers, Jared Flick, Andrew Moroney; lock, Mitch Morris. Coach: Wayne Cullen.
Northern United: Fullback, Roy Bell; wingers, Stu Cohen, Clarence Kelly, Terry Kelly (one to be omitted); centres, Chris Swan, Fred Waters; five-eighth, Michael Moran; halfback, Willie Hammond; props, Dave Fernando, Buddy King; hooker, Al McKenzie; second-rowers, Sione Tonga, Leon King; lock, Alwyn Roberts. Bench: Paul King, Burwood Robinson, Anthony Robinson, Lenard Hickling, Justin Bolt, Walter Donnelly. Coach: Chris Binge.
Reserve grade: Ballina v Evans Head
Under-18s: Ballina v Northern United