Old heads do it for the Trojans
EXPERIENCE in key positions helped Lennox Head to a 28-19 win over Ballina in the Far North Coast rugby union preliminary final at Crozier Field, Lismore, on Saturday.
Centre Brad Lees, front-rower Matt Liddle and fullback Paul Crozier led the way with the Trojans advancing to the grand final for the first time since 2014.
Liddle is the only survivor from the club's first premiership win in 2008 while Crozier won three straight with the Trojans from 2010.
Lees was a constant threat on Saturday and set up a try just after half-time for centre Zac Beecher.
No 8 Daniel Alley scored in the corner soon after and they were always going to be hard to run down after taking a 28-14 lead.
"Matt Liddle and Paul Crozier have been with the Trojans for a long time and those senior players really guided us through after half-time,” Lennox Head coach Jason McCombie said.
"It means a lot to them and Brad Lees has brought a bit more of a professional culture over from rugby league and he's been great.
"Our young guys really look up to them and I think they're at the stage now where they believe that we can take down these bigger and more fancied teams.”
It was never going to be easy for Ballina going into the game without hooker Brett Johnston and front-rower Sam Pearce.
They never looked settled and were hammered in the penalty count with front-rower Ryan Hamilton and flanker Chris Wilkinson yellow-carded for innocuous tackles
Lennox Head took advantage early with back-to-back penalty goals before Ballina centre Anthony Lolohea broke through for a try to take a 7-6 lead.
The Trojans had all the ball for the rest of the first half with a converted try to winger Marty McNamara followed by another penalty goal to five-eighth Hugo Marks.
The Seahorses reduced the margin to 16-14 just before the break when winger Joel Noble scored in the corner.
An already depleted Ballina front-row lost Isaac Pratten late in the game while the Trojans finished without their main attacking weapon in Beecher, who will be battling to overcome a hamstring injury.
"I think we left a few tries out there in the first half and we were a bit nervous at the end,” McCombie said.
"There was a bit of a soft tissue injury there with Zac but he should be fine and we just need to make sure that we don't get carried away with this before next week.”
It was a better result for Ballina in reserve grade with three late tries snatching a 22-20 win over Mullumbimby.
They looked gone for all money at 20-3 down mid-way through the second half before their five-eighth Nick Brydon scored and converted to win the match.
Meanwhile, Evans Head can win back-to-back premierships in President's Cup after getting past Kyogle 28-7.
FNC RUGBY UNION SCOREBOARD
Preliminary finals at Crozier Field, Lismore, on Saturday
Lennox Head 28 (Martin McNamara, Zac Beecher, Daniel Alley tries; Hugo Marks 2 conversions, 3 penalty goals)
d Ballina 19 (Terry Ferguson, Anthony Lolohea, Joel Noble tries; Terry Ferguson 2 conversions). Half-time: Lennox Head 16-14.
Ballina 22 (Nick Brydon, Cody Campbell, Jamie Coote tries; Nick Brydon 2 conversions, penalty goal) d Mullumbimby 20 (Byron Flynn, Satuala Siamoa, Michael Caulcutt tries; Nathan Nicholls conversion, penalty goal). Half-time: Mullumbimby 12-3.
Evans River 28 (Harry Daley 2, Adam Armistead, Alister Debritt tries; Adam Armistead conversion, 2 penalty goals)
d Kyogle 7 (Nathan Farragher try, conversion). Half-time: Evans River 13-7.
GRAND FINALS THIS SATURDAY
at Crozier Field, Lismore
12 noon, President's Cup: Yamba v Evans River
1.50pm, reserve grade: Lennox Head v Ballina
3.30pm, first grade: Wollongbar-Alstonville v Lennox Head.