Red Devils 'not far from the mark'
GRAFTON Ghosts look set to become the Retravision Northern League minor premiers after a comeback 19-16 win over nearest rivals Byron Bay at Byron Bay yesterday.
The win gives Ghosts a three-point lead with three rounds remaining but Byron Bay coach Nathan Cross said the competition favourites were not as intimidating as their reputation.
“Grafton played well in the pack, but if that's all they've got, we don't fear them,” he said.
Ghosts winger Carson Galaway opened the scoring before Byron Bay laid on three tries - through Clarence Kelly, Tobin Cupples and Duane Cahill - to take a 16-4 lead after 25 minutes.
But plagued by a series of mistakes and penalties the hosts became bogged down in their own 40m and after three consecutive sets, Ghosts centre Aaron Hartman crossed on half-time to narrow the gap to 16-10.
Momentum stayed with Ghosts after the break and Hartman surprised everyone - including his team-mates - when he scooted from dummy-half on the last tackle and scored his second try seven minutes into the half.
Ghosts coach Col Speed said he gave Hartman a licence to play where he wanted.
“I gave him a free rein - to go looking for the ball,” Speed said.
“I can't give away too much but they were different instructions.”
Hartman tormented the Byron Bay defence with his straight running game and looked dangerous every time he had ball.
But the big No 3 went quiet after a jarring tackle from Byron Bay prop Matt Ross and Ghosts' attack was blunted for the remaining 27minutes, which didn't escape the notice of Cross.
“They rely heavily on him (Hartman),” Cross said.
The scores remained locked until Ghosts' five-eighth Daniel Roberts slotted a field goal with two minutes remaining and Hartman landed a penalty goal on the full-time siren to seal the win.
But the game was won by Ghosts' vicious defence and attitude - and a series of penalties that prevented the home team from building any sustained pressure.
Cross said he was disappointed with the loss but proud of his team for muscling up.
“Our effort was great but we didn't have many of the 50/50 calls go our way and in these games you need it,” he said.
“It just hurt us having to do too much defence.”
Instead of Byron's trademark play with pacemen doing the damage out wide, Grafton Ghosts dragged them into a slogfest up the middle of the field.
“We won through guts and determination and in defence,” Speed said.
“If you let them get a roll on, they'll easily capitalise on it with their speed out wide.
“One thing about this team (Ghosts) is they never drop their bundle.”
Although the match left a bad taste in Cross' mouth, he said he couldn't wait for the next course.
“If they're the team to beat, we are not far from the mark,” he said.