It's crunch time in Lismore

WHEN Northern United lost captain Alwyn Roberts in the opening rounds of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League season, the 2009 runners-up might have lost their way.

Well, for some time they did.

Three consecutive losses midseason saw the Dirawongs plummet out of the top five and into a fight for finals survival.

But they have since reeled off six wins on the trot to stake their claim as the competition’s form team.

And while the return of Roy Bell and the emergence of David Briggs jnr have hogged the headlines, a guiding hand in the middle of the ruck has shown the way.

Branston Brewer-Charles has become a constant for coach Chris Binge as he makes Roberts’ No 13 jersey his own.

“Branston has been outstanding for us since he came into the side,” Binge said.

“He is almost a carbon copy of Alwyn – I reckon he has watched a fair bit of what Alwyn does.”

Run hard and tackle everything that moves is the mantra.

Staying composed and supporting his ball-runners his strength.

Tomorrow at Crozier Field in Lismore, Brewer-Charles and United look to keep their streak going against a faltering Marist Brothers.

And there is so much on the line.

It is the return fixture of the Bundjalung Cup, which Brothers hold sway in after taking the points in the first round of the season.

But more stark are the ramifications for the loser tomorrow.

Equal second on the ladder, the winner will remain in the box seat behind Grafton Ghosts while the loser faces the prospect of dropping out of a top five which will be almost impossible to re-enter.

Brothers have won just once in the past month and coach David Krause knows it is time to step up.

“It’s crunch time for us and for six other teams,” Krause said.

“Some very good teams are going to miss out on the finals and we don’t plan to be one of them.”

In other NRRRL games tomorrow:

Byron Bay and Mullumbimby renew hostilities when the rival sides clash at Les Donnelly Field, Mullumbimby.

The Giants are well out of the finals race but coach Scott Hogan says his men have one thing left to play for.

“If we can knock Byron out of the finals that would make our season,” he said.

“We love it when they come on to our home turf and we are ready to give it to them.”

The Red Devils will be without fullback Bill Lowrie, five-eighth Brad Lees, back-rower Matt Connor and representative centre Clarence Kelly – and Hogan thinks the loss of Kelly could be the death knell for the Bay.

“That would just about be the end of them, you would think,” he said.

“Clarence is their best player and without him they would have struggled, but it won’t matter – once we beat them this weekend they are finished anyway.”

Ballina will be seeking to force a passage back into the finals picture when hosting Evans Head at Kingsford Smith Park.

Assistant coach Greg Barnes watched as the Seagulls surrendered a winning lead to be beaten by United last weekend and knows that a repeat of that would end their season.

“We must win, it’s a simple as that,” he said.

But he knows it won’t be easy.

Evans Head pushed Ballina to the edge when they met a month ago and the Bombers pack came in for heavy praise form their northern neighbours.

It could get ugly at Yamba when winless Lower Clarence take on undefeated Grafton Ghosts in the mismatch of the season.

All first-grade games tomorrow kick off at 2.45pm.

The high-flying Cudgen Hornets should have little trouble disposing of Tweed Coast in their clash at Les Berger Field, Cabarita, today.

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