Time for change of luck
YOU would forgive Northern United halfback Willie Hammond for turning into a gibbering mess at the mere mention of a grand final.
You see Hammond - the halfback for the Dirawongs in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League decider against Lower Clarence at Maclean tomorrow - and grand finals have not exactly been a happy mix.
The 32-year-old has played in two first-grade deciders and lost them both in devastating circumstances.
In 2001, Hammond was playing for Lakes United in the Newcastle competition when they lost to Wests 20-16 in extra time.
With the scores locked at 16-all the United goal-kicker shaved the upright with a penalty goal attempt just before the end of regular time that would have given United the premiership.
In 2007, Hammond was again pipped at the post when playing for Ballina in the NRRRL decider.
The Seagulls led by eight points with five minutes to go, only for Mullumbimby to score two tries to snatch the victory 34-30 in a remarkable match.
Asked if he had become a grand final jinx, Hammond just chuckled.
“You could say that, I don't know,” he said.
“I'm 32 this year so any grand final is a bonus for me now, especially in first grade. I'm 0-2 so I hope that changes.”
Born-and-bred at Moree and a former Boomerangs and Moree Boars player, Hammond moved to the Northern Rivers about 10 years ago.
He has had stints with Ballina, the now defunct Lismore Workers and grand final opponents Lower Clarence.
Most of the time he has been involved in the clubs his coach Chris Binge has been either playing or coaching at.
“I promised my Mrs and kids at the start of the year that this would be my last year but I have fellas like Bingey, who is my cousin, on my back all the time to keep going,” Hammond laughed.
“I could probably still keep going. I promised my partner but if we do win she might say you might as well keep going.”
Making the decision tougher are the tight bonds he has with his Northern United team-mates, both culturally and in their football philosophy.
“We are all Aboriginal and we play a similar style of football,” Hammond said.
“I like to play like it's a game of Touch football with the only difference instead of being tipped you are tackled and put on the ground and rolled on your back.
“That bond has been with us for a few seasons because we used to get together for the Aboriginal Knockout for the past four or five years.”
Hammond rates the free-wheeling Dirawongs as probably the most potent attacking team he has played in but he did not go so far as to proclaim it the best.
“It's really hard to judge because down at Lakes it was a well-structured team with the NSW Country coach Rip Taylor in charge,” the halfback said.
“At Workers we had players like Martin Griese, Milton Thaiday, Niko (Vakararawa) and Burwood Robinson.
“At Ballina we had players like Brenton Cochrane and Eddie Killingbeck.
“This team (United) probably has the most spark, the most attacking ability of any I've played with.”
With talk emanating from Maclean about perceived Northern United defensive frailties, Hammond was quick to defend the defensive line.
“That's pretty big talk coming from them,” Hammond said.
“I know a lot of the fellas in our team love putting on the big shots or clean tackles.
“If they (Magpies) want to talk about our weaknesses I guess we'll see on Sunday. I know a lot of the fellas in their team and I know a few of them lack in defence as well.”
Hopefully, it will be a case of third time lucky for Hammond and his Northern United team-mates.
After all, it took the club three attempts to be admitted to the NRRRL.
First grade grand final from 2.45pm.
NORTHERN UNITED: Fullback, Roy Bell; wingers, Terry Kelly, Clarence Kelly; centres, Chris Swan, Fred Waters; five-eighth, Michael Moran; halfback, Willie Hammond; props, Dave Fernando, Buddy King; hooker, Allan McKenzie; second-rowers, Sione Tonga, Leon King; lock, Alwyn Roberts (c). Interchange: Paul King, Lenard Hickling, Burwood Robinson, Anthony Robinson, Justin Bolt, Cameron Fourmile, Stu Cohen, Stevie Close. Coach: Chris Binge.
LOWER CLARENCE: Fullback, Grant Brown; wingers, DJ Eamens, Mikey Randall; centres, Daniel Randall, Hughie Stanley; five-eighth, Willie Lockwood; halfback, Dallas Waters (c); props, Matt Michael, Luke Faul; hooker, Sam Woods; second-rowers, Mitch McLennan, George Jarrett; lock, Don Walker. Interchange: Tom Fletcher, Daniel Battersby, Tom Martin, Jerry Byers, Anthony Hickling, Brian Quinlin, Jordan Walker. Coach: Dallas Waters.