Our year in rugby: Pioneering Wollongbar club prevails
THE 2014 season in Far North Coast rugby union will be largely remembered for the Wollongbar-Alstonville Pioneers breaking an 18-year premiership drought.
The Pioneers quickly emerged as competition favourites and lost only one game during the season.
Defending premiers Lismore were knocked out in the preliminary final, which gave Lennox Head a chance for its sixth premiership since entering the competition.
Ballina also returned to the semi-finals while Byron Bay, Casino and SCU struggled.
The Pioneers made their third consecutive grand final and finally claimed the elusive premiership they had been chasing for 18 years with a 35-11 win over Lennox Head at Crozier Field, Lismore.
It is the second premiership for the club in its 23-year history.
Some handy additions from England and New Zealand helped new coach John Jenkins.
The team was littered with its best juniors of recent years, including Ben Damen, who made the NSW Country Cockatoos team.
The Trojans were in a rebuilding year with new coach Jason McCombie.
They had experience in the forwards and got the best out of a young backline.
Harry Witt was strong all year and was sorely missed when he succumbed to a season-ending injury in August.
Dan Boardman, Martin McNamara and Taylor Steele look to have plenty of potential.
The Greens were unlucky not to make a second consecutive grand final after a 24-22 loss to Lennox Head in the preliminary final.
They had their fair share of injuries which saw the team chop and change plenty of times through the season.
Will Cotterill came back to the club from Bangalow mid-season and was their best player in the second half of the year.
Centre Ben Sloane was a big loss as they struggled to match it with the Wollongbar-Alstonville backline in the major semi-final.
Ballina made the semi-finals, finishing fourth, after missing out in 2013.
The Seahorses had a young side this season with players stepping up from the lower grades.
The addition of prop Martin Plokstys from Sydney and English import George Scott made them one of the best forward packs in the competition.
Second year in the top grade for Bangalow and they had high hopes of semi-finals after a solid 2013.
However, they lost four of their opening five games of the season and missed flanker Otty Fifita when he was ruled out for the year with a knee injury.
Hooker Trent Hoscher and sec-ond-rower Jock Craigie had big seasons for the Rebels.
The Redmen were always going to be thereabouts and prove a difficult side for some.
They usually claim at least one big scalp at home and that came in the eighth round when they defeated the defending premiers Lismore City 19-14.
New coach Paul Jeffery had his work cut out especially when star signing AJ Gilbert left after only one game to play in Japan.
Craig Wallace and Aaron Shakeshaft spearheaded the team from the front row.
Again not having a reserve grade team made life tough when injuries hit or players were away.
A tough year for a young Bulls side.
The forward pack held its own through the likes of Blake Birmingham, Craig Connelly and Carl Tahatu.
If they can keep the team together and recruit a couple of players they will have a better 2015.
It was never going to be easy for Southern Cross University coach Josh Condon when he took over this year.
The way the uni operates they never know what sort of numbers they have until the season starts.
A highlight was brothers Andrew, Edward and Patrick Kelly making up the front row.
Team of the Year
Front-row: Benn Wright (Lennox Head)
Front-row: Martin Plokstys (Ballina)
Hooker: Trent Hoscher (Bangalow)
Second-row: George Scott (Ballina)
Second-row: Gavin Tulk (Lismore)
Flanker: Harry Witt (Lennox Head)
Flanker: Will Cotterill (Lismore)
No 8: Jerry Faifaiese (Wollongbar)
Halfback: Justyn Keir (Wollongbar)
Five-eighth: Ben Damen (Wollongbar)
Centre: Jack Downie (Wollongbar)
Centre: Matt Bermingham (Lismore)
Winger: Ben Leatigaga (Wollongbar)
Winger: James Vidler (Wollongbar)
Fullback: Paul Crozier (Lennox Head)
Bench: Adam Thomas (Ballina)
Bench: Andrew Burke (Ballina)
Bench: Aaron Shakeshaft (Byron Bay)
Bench: Craig Wallace (Byron Bay)
Bench: Carl Tahatu (Casino)
Bench: Sean Austin (Grafton)
Bench: Nathaniel Regueira (Wollongbar)
Bench: Adam Law (Wollongbar)