Seagulls soar with victory
BALLINA Seagulls are one win away from a grand final appearance after beating Byron Bay Red Devils 28-10 in the Novaskill Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League minor semi-final at Byron Bay on Saturday.
After a horror season in 2011 - the Seagulls finished second last - Ballina were at long odds to have a successful 2012.
But coach Greg Barnes has moulded a "home-grown" team - all bar one of the players came through the Seagulls' junior ranks - into a side which believes they are genuine contenders.
The highlights of their performances this season have been fitness and a tenacious defence.
Both attributes were again on show against Byron Bay.
The sides went to the half-time break locked at 10-all.
Ballina skipped away to a 10-0 lead after tries to hooker Jess Perry and five-eighth Alex Grant, but the Red Devils hit back with tries to Chris King and Duane Cahill.
In the second half Ballina scored 18 unanswered points as they repelled every attacking move Byron Bay could muster.
Grant scored his second try of the day when he followed through his own kick nine minutes into the second half to make it 14-10.
For the next 20 minutes the match was in the bal-ance as the defence of both sides held firm.
But Byron tired over the final 11 minutes while Ballina kept on coming.
Ballina centre Luke Simpson scored in the 29th min-ute and when halfback Andrew Battese converted from the sideline it madeit 20-10.
Three minutes later winger Chris Dooley scored, winning the race for an in-goal kick, then Simpson showed his pace with a 50m run to score.
"That's the way we've been winning games all year," Barnes said, referring to the team's superior fitness and defence.
He said the Seagulls did not care who their preliminary final opponents were because the plan was to play both teams - Grafton and Murwillumbah - over the next two weeks.
Byron Bay coach Tobin Cupples praised Ballina's defence and could not fault his team's commitment.
"You can't question our effort," he said.
Despite the loss Cupples said 2012 had been a successful year for the Byron Bay club.
The Red Devils fielded only one team last season and this year had teams in all three grades and made the top-grade semi-finals.
"Byron Bay are back," Cupples said.
Barnes praised the efforts of all players - "from one to 17" - but made special mention of Dan Gibson, Alwyn Roberts, Andrew Battese and Fred Pitt.
For Byron, none tried harder than prop Simon Kelly. Lock Scott Sattler, hooker Cale Rowston, five-eighth Jarred de Thierry and centre Chris King also impressed.
BALLINA 28 - Luke Simpson 2, Alex Grant 2, Jess Perry, Chris Dooley tries; Andrew Battese 2 goals
BYRON BAY 10 -Chris King, Duane Cahill tries; Chris King goal. Penalties: Byron 10-7