Pioneers power on ahead of finals
DEFENDING premiers Wollongbar-Alstonville is just two wins away from a sixth straight premiership after another dominant season in Far North Coast rugby union.
The Pioneers finished the competition rounds 14 points clear on top of the ladder and have lost only one game against Casuarina earlier this month.
They will host the major semi-final next weekend and a win there would put them into an eighth straight grand final since 2012.
The club's second grade has improved out of sight this season and is a big chance to take out the title along with its women's team who can win the inaugural sevens trophy.
Coach Paul Jeffery arrived at the club this season and believes they can keep building.
"It has been a big club effort from everyone this year and we've focussed on doing all the little things right,” Jeffery said.
"First grade being successful can have a snowball effect and we're getting some really positive results on top of everyone willing to put the work in.
"To be able to win the minor premiership with five rounds to go is a pretty special effort and it earns you the only guaranteed home final.”
Jeffery knows there is still hard work ahead - he coached Byron Bay to a minor premiership in 2016 before the team was eventually beaten in the grand final by the Pioneers.
Second-placed Ballina has not been able to get the better of the Pioneers this season while Casuarina are a dangerous prospect from third.
Lennox Head has also made grand finals from outside the top two.
"We'll be at full strength for the first time in six weeks and that will help both grades,” Jeffery said. "Every team is a chance of winning it from here and no-one remembers who the minor premiers are at the end of the season.”
The season will continue for Pioneers five-eighth Ben Damen and centre Alex Gibbon who have both been selected in the NSW Country team.
They will be joined by Casuarina five-eighth Vitori Buatava for the Division 2 National Rugby Championships in Adelaide in October.
Jeffery coached the FNC team to a win in the second tier Richardson Shield in the NSW Country championships this year and will take the squad into the Caldwell Cup next year for the top title.
"It was a good showing and having those guys go on to higher levels just shows what our zone can produce,” Jeffery said. "They go back to club better players and we're already getting interest for next year.”