Top six to square off
RUGBY League on the Northern Rivers will have a semi-finals feel about it this weekend with the top six teams set to engage in direct combat.
And the consequences are damning.
Sides that win could find themselves jumping as high as second while the losers face the possibility of dropping out of the top five, such is the congestion at the top of the ladder.
Tomorrow the third-placed Byron Bay get their chance to take down the premiership favourites when they host the runaway Grafton Ghosts at Red Devil Park.
At the same time second-placed Marist Brothers travel to Ned Byrne Field, Kings-cliff, to face last-start losers, the sixth-placed Cudgen Hornets.
And in Lismore the attacking flair of fifth-placed Northern United comes up against the sky-blue defensive wall of the fourth-placed Ballina Seagulls.
Winnning is crucial here – a double-edged sword where victory is virtually worth four points.
NRRRL president Robin Harley can't remember the last time the competition was so close.
“It's been a long time,” he said.
“The closeness at the top indicates how tough it is to win this competition.”
Harley has tipped Ghosts to win the premiership throughout the season but he insists there is a whole new ball game once the finals roll around.
“You will see every team go up a cog when it's all on the line,” he said.
“Ghosts might be favour-ites but it is not an open and shut book – far from it.”
Ghosts have a had a blessed run with injury – they may have lost Danny Wicks for a large chink of the season but other clubs have had to toil away minus four, five and six top-liners.
Harley knows well the role that luck plays in a winter of rugby league.
“It is a tremendous part of the equation,” he said.
“When we (Kyogle) won the premiership in 1983 we used only 19 players through the whole season.”
“It is amazing the difference it makes to have some continuity.
“If Ghosts were to lose a Ryan Farrell or a Donny Dickson those blokes would be very hard to replace.”
No doubt the stakes are high in the NRRRL this weekend – the biggest problem for fans is choosing which game to go to.
Their other options are:
Evans Head taking on Casino at Stan Payne Oval, Evans Head, today.
Kyogle hosting Tweed Coast Raiders tomorrow.
Murwillumbah up against Mullumbimby at Murwillumbah tomorrow.
Grafton Rhinos took on struggling premiers Lower Clarence at McKittrick Park, South Grafton, last night.