Proud Pioneers win six straight titles
WOLLONGBAR-Alstonville claimed its sixth straight premiership with a 48-14 win over Casuarina in the Far North Coast rugby union grand final.
Brothers Ben and Josh Damen ran riot for the Pioneers on Saturday, the team scoring five second-half tries after they had led 15-0 at half-time.
Ben steered the ship from five-eighth and put the nail in the coffin when he dummied and went over to give the Pioneers a 27-0 lead with 30 minutes left at Crozier Field, Lismore
Josh kept himself busy on the wing, scoring two tries, while No8 Hamish Mould made several line breaks, putting Casuarina on the back foot.
It was the first time all three Damen brothers had been part of a grand final-winning team with Daniel Damen in the centres.
Ben, who captained the side and is the NSW Country five-eighth, has now won five premierships after missing 2017 with a knee injury.
"Out of all the years this is probably the one that means the most to me because I get to share it with my younger brothers,” the 31-year-old said.
"It's a pretty special feeling and I was a bit nervous going in because I think everyone expected us to win.
"There was a strong wind out there and that forced us to run the ball which led to a lot of the tries.”
Casuarina were camped at their own end for most of the first half which nullified five-eighth Vitori Buatava and centre Rian Olivier.
The Pioneers jumped out to a 12-0 lead with their second try straight after Casuarina fullback Kai George was yellow-carded.
Casuarina held on to concede only a penalty goal before a try to Pioneers second-rower Nick Pennisi gave his side a 20-0 lead just after half-time.
Winning six straight grand finals means the Pioneers have now won the most consecutive of any current club in the competition.
They surpass Lennox Head (2008-12) and Ballina (1997-01), which won five straight. Coffs Harbour, which now plays on the Mid North Coast, won eight straight from 1973-80.
"I never thought we would win this many,” Ben Damen said.
"It's a great achievement for the club with all the guys who have come in and out of the side over the years.
"Only Matt Scott and Boo (Matt Wright) have been part of all six so it's been a big effort from a lot of people.”
Pioneers coach Paul Jeffery now has premierships at three clubs. He won four at Lennox Head and was an assistant coach at Lismore when they won in 2013.
Grand finals on Saturday:
First grade: Wollongbar-Alstonville 48 (Josh Damen 2, Bill Johnston, James Vidler, Nick Pennisi, Ben Damen, Sam Kerry tries; Sam Kerry 5 conversions, penalty goal) d Casuarina Beach 14 (Vitori Buatava, Richard White tries; Vitori Buatava 2 conversions). Half-time: 15-0.
Reserve grade: Mullumbimby 20 (Luke Caldwell 2, Josh Mudge tries; Andrew Jordan-Brown conversion; Byron Flynn penalty goal) d Ballina 7 (Brad Grono try; Nick Brydon conversion). Half-time: 12-7.
Women's sevens: Wollongbar-Alstonville 12 (Samantha Wright, Georgia Taylor tries; Shana Povey-Hyatt conversion) d Yamba 0. Half-time: 12-0.
President's Cup: Evans River 32 (Luke Cleaver, Joel Spoor, Adam Armistead, James Slade, Dale Higgins tries; Michael Miskle 2 conversions, penalty goal) d Iluka 10 (Shaun Laurie, Michael Randall tries). Half-time: 22-5.