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Striker trials with Mariners but Byron still favoured

BIG LOSS: Sam Shepherd will be missing from the Byron Bay team today in FNC premier league soccer.
BIG LOSS: Sam Shepherd will be missing from the Byron Bay team today in FNC premier league soccer. Dogwhistle

IT'S derby day in Far North Coast premier league soccer as rivals Byron Bay and Bangalow go head-to-head at the Byron Bay Recreation Ground this afternoon with a grand final spot on the line.

Byron will be without Golden Boot winner Sam Shepherd, who is on trial at A-League club Central Coast Mariners, while flanker Emanuel Altarui has returned to Italy.

Shaun Packham and Sam Owens come into a Byron side looking to qualify for a fourth grand final in five years.

There are question marks over the fitness of the Bangalow forward line with Sam Ireland and Rory Devlin under injury clouds.

The sides have met twice this season with Byron Bay winning 4-0 both times - Bangalow have not beaten Byron since being prom- oted to the premier league in 2013.

Byron coach Damon Bell said past results go out the window.

"On paper we might be favourites - we beat them 4-0 on both occasions this season - but I don't think that means anything coming into semis.

"It's a different competition.

"By all reports Bangalow were very good against Rovers last week but I'm not going to try and counteract what they do. I think they should be more worried about us than we are of them.

"We have to be disciplined, stick to our game plan and take our chances because we will have them.”

A win today would see Bangalow qualify for consecutive grand finals for the first time - in fact, it's the first time Bangalow have made consecutive finals appearances at premier league level.

Bangalow coach Neil Fuller was full of praise for the camaraderie among his players.

"I won't talk about the grand final, we're not there yet, but the fact the club has made the semi- finals two years in a row is an amazing feat,” he said.

"We don't have the depth that a lot of clubs do, so it's an incredible feat by the boys. I put it down to a strong sense of team spirit, the boys all work well together.

"We want to continue on with the way we played in the second half against Rovers.

"If Byron allow us to do that we will, conversely if we allow Byron to play with the ball they're the kind of team that will take advantage of that.”

The loser will host the preliminary final against the winner of the minor semi-final between Richmond Rovers and Goonellabah, which was played last night.

The grand final is set down for Saturday, September 16.