Seagulls go so close
LENGTH-of-the-field tries to Alex Grant and Brett Kelly weren't enough as Ballina lost 26-20 to Grafton Ghosts in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League preliminary final at Frank McGuren Field, Grafton, yesterday.
Trailing 24-20, the fast-finishing Seagulls looked like they might score their third try in the space of 10 minutes when halfback Andrew Battese nailed a 40/20.
However, they lost possession and consecutive penalties led to Ghosts kicking a penalty goal and hanging on to make their fourth consecutive grand final.
As expected, Grafton won the penalty count 11-6 and were always going to be hard to beat at home after giving up a 20-point lead to Murwillumbah in the major semi-final the previous weekend, when the Mustangs chased them down to win by two points and earn a home grand final on Sunday.
"Last week we were nearly perfect and lost; this time we were awful and won," Grafton captain-coach Ryan Farrell said.
"Length-of-the-field tries hurt after you grind away at a team for 20 minutes and the boys could have thrown the towel in then.
"We all dug in and it was a really good effort from both teams.
"All three grades (for Ghosts) have made the grand final and that doesn't happen very often.
"The club's on a bit of a roll and we're not going anywhere in the near future."
Ballina had the best possible start with tries to lock Kane Montgomery and centre Luke Simpson.
Leading 10-2, they were penalised for playing the ball off the mark which proved costly when Ghosts winger Joel Moss scored a converted try two plays later.
When Jake Lennon regathered his own kick to go in under the cross-bar and centre Aaron Hartmann put an unmarked Moss over for his second try of the afternoon, it looked like Grafton might have put the Seagulls to the sword leading 18-10.
But determined efforts from props Dean French and Greg Ryan and Montgomery helped the Seagulls stage a second-half fightback.
"It doesn't help when you don't get a penalty for the last 25 minutes but our heads are up," Ballina coach Greg Barnes said.
"Well done to Grafton. They stuck to their game plan and they deserve it regardless of what the penalty count was.
"I'm really proud of the year we've had and goal-kicking was the only difference between the two sides in the end."
Yesterday at Grafton
GRAFTON GHOSTS 26 (J Moss 2, J Lennon, R Walters tries; R Danvers 5 goals) d BALLINA 20 (K Montgomery, L Simpson, A Grant, B Kelly tries; A Battese 2 goals)
Reserve grade: Grafton Ghosts 50 d Murwillumbah 16
Under-18s: Grafton Ghosts 22 d Marist Brothers 12
Sunday at Murwillumbah
First grade: Murwillumbah v Ghosts
Reserve grade: Mullumbimby v Ghosts
Under-18s: Mullumbimby v Ghosts
Gates open 9.30am. Entry $12