United front Northern United prop forward Dave Fernando takes on the Ballina defence in the first-round encounter between the two clubs. A win tomorrow would earn a crack at NRRRL minor premiers in the major semi-final next weekend.
United front Northern United prop forward Dave Fernando takes on the Ballina defence in the first-round encounter between the two clubs. A win tomorrow would earn a crack at NRRRL minor premiers in the major semi-final next weekend.

Seagulls expecting tough game

LAST time Ballina met Northern United they got a beating. It was the usual story – Roy Bell and David Briggs running riot for the Dirawongs.

After that game the Seagulls re-evaluated – they haven’t lost since – and captain Ben Crawford sees no better way to repay United for turning his side’s season around than with a finals flogging.

Ballina (third) travel inland to take on Northern United (second) in the NRRRL qualifying semi at Oakes Oval, Lismore, tomorrow.

It is a battle of two contrasting styles: the defensive grind and methodical attack of the giant Seagulls side versus the unscripted, unpredictable and close-to-unstoppable Dirawongs.

This week it is Crawford’s turn to line up opposite the NRRRL’s hottest player in Roy Bell – luckily for him he knows what he is in for.

“He carved us up last time,” Crawford said of Bell.

“We really have to watch him but if you pay too much attention you will release Briggs and he is just an awesome sight.

“They have speed to burn.”

It was only a 12-point margin when these finals combatants met in Round 13 but Ballina were never really in the hunt.

Crawford admitted that his men got ahead of themselves before that loss and needed a wake-up call.

“We were getting a bit cocky,” he said. “That loss really brought us back to earth and allowed us to re-focus on the job.”

While much of the focus tomorrow will be on the mercurial Bell, there is a pair of toilers who Crawford sees as more telling to the outcome.

While others are flying into melees and reasoning with referees, Alwyn Roberts and Wille Hammond will be crafting the next play.

“Willie is a big game player,” Crawford said.

“And Alwyn is an outstanding back-rower who never stops.

“Those two will lead them around and that’s who we need to stop.”

But Ballina have the troops.

The class of their outfit can be seen on the bench.

Two of the competition’s most damaging forwards, Dean Illhalainen and Damian Sironen, as well as junior Bronco Dane Clarke will enter the game when opposing forwards tire.

“We had a few boys away for various reasons and the guys who stepped in (Cameron Copeland and Dean Cameron) did such a good job that they retained their spots,” Crawford said.

Ballina hasn’t played finals footy since 2007 – only Crawford, Ed Killingbeck, Andrew Battese and Kane Montgomery remain – and they will soak up every moment.

“We are pumped to be playing at this time of year,” Crawford said.

The Seagulls will have come full circle in just five weeks if they can roll United tomorrow, but Crawford knows well that is far from a given.

“They are freakish, United – they can do anything.”



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