Night of the Trojans
BALLINA'S Liam Preston (left) brings Lennox Head’s Braidon Boniface back to earth on Saturday night.
THE latest chapter in the sporting rivalry between Lennox Head and Ballina belongs to Lennox after they claimed victory in the Far North Coast rugby union first-grade grand final on Saturday night.
After the full-time siren, Lismore’s Crozier Field resembled Greece 2500 years ago as helmeted fans flooded the field, worn proudly by the soldiers of Lennox Head rugby.
In a game marked by bruising contact around the ruck rather than running rugby, the Trojans held on to defeat Ballina 28-20 in front of a vocal crowd that filled the ground’s main grandstand.
After the mandatory softening up period, Lennox Head drew first blood with a penalty goal from scrum half Adam Gordon after nine minutes.
Ballina squared things up soon after, before Lennox poked its nose in front with another Gordon penalty, taking the score to 6-3.
It took until the 21st minute for either side to have their try line breached.
A Lennox Head clearing kick could not have bounced more horribly for Ballina, spiking at right angles away from its defenders and into the appreciative arms of a flying Tony Buchanan.
The winger sprinted 30 metres sprint to score the game’s opening try and Gordon’s conversion made it 11-3 to the Trojans.
Two more Gordon penalties and one to Ballina saw Lennox moved to a 17-6 lead, as both sides tried to capitalise on an avalanche of penalties awarded through the game.
But after a lacklustre half in terms of attack, late in the first period a dropped ball by Ballina metres from their line put them under pressure.
The ensuing scrum gave the Trojans’ backline room to move for one of the few times in the match, and after sending it wide through the hands on the eastern side of the ground, winger Matthew Aherne finished well.
Aherne’s try – which was not converted from out wide – gave Lennox a handy 22-6 lead at the break.
It was one the Trojans would have to rely on in the second half, as Ballina clawed their way back.
This was thanks in large part to a lack of discipline from the Trojans, as referee Graham Cook came close to wearing out his whistle for regular indiscretions at the breakdown.
But while Ballina continued to muscle-up to Lennox, it wasn’t until the 67th minute Ballina finally got across the line when Liam Preston pushed over to score.
The successful conversion took the score to 22-13.
Then, with less than five minutes to go, Under-19s player of the year Jake Smith gave Ballina a glimmer of hope as he dived over to score. The conversion brought the score to 22-20, and the Trojans’ comfortable half time margin was gone.
But when Ballina conceded another penalty, Trojans centre Brandon Boniface calmly slotted a kick from more than 40 metres out to take the score to 25-20.
Lennox kept the ball at the right end of the park for the final minutes, before fly half Mathew Barnes snapped a field goal from close range in the last play of the game.
The full-time siren was the signal for a tidal wave of die-hard Trojans fans to rush on to the ground to celebrate with their players, those helmets at the ready.
Lennox Head coach Paul Jeffrey praised his players for hanging on, despite Ballina winning the second half.
“Grand finals aren’t meant to be easy. Ballina threw absolutely everything at us in the second half,” he said.
“To withstand them showed a lot of character and the boys really dug deep. That’s how you win a grand final.”
Ballina coach Mick McGregor said he expected the sometimes dour struggle that took place for much of the second half.
“I thought the sides were that evenly matched. I knew it would be back and forth and that no one would have any room,” he said.
Despite the loss, McGregor said he was pleased with what his side had achieved in 2010.
“They were nowhere near up to a grand final five or six weeks ago so I’m proud as punch with how they got there,” he said.
LENNOX HEAD 28 (Tony Buchanan, Matthew Aherne tries; Adam Gordon 4, Braidon Boniface penalty goals; Mathew Barnes drop goal) d BALLINA 20 (Liam Preston, Jake Smith tries; Adam Fisher 2 conversions, 2 penalty goals). Half-time: 22-6.