United beaten by one point
Magpies fullback Grant Brown potted a late field goal to clinch a thrilling 21-20 win over the Dirawongs at Maclean yesterday.
It was the first time Lower Clarence had hosted a grand final.
But the irony is that Brown, a robust fullback who was close to his side’s best, will don the Northern United jersey in two weeks as part of their NSW Aboriginal Knockout Carnival team.
He has played for the team for the past three years.
Asked if he felt any mixed emotions for burying his ‘other team’, Brown just chuckled.
“No … the team I play for is the team I put 110 per cent in for,” he said. “Full credit to Northern United. This was their first year in the competition and they worked hard all year to get where they are today.
“I’ll head up there for training next week for sure to check them out and let them know where I’m standing.”
Until Brown’s field goal, the scores had been locked at 20-all after the Magpies squandered an 18-8 advantage just after half-time.
The 22-year-old’s effort sailed directly between the posts from about 15 metres out, which had most of the 4000-plus crowd in raptures, after United had missed with their own one-pointer moments earlier when halfback Willie Hammond’s shot sailed just wide.
Brown had called the move before the set started but had to continually scream as his team-mates kept over-ruling him.
“A million things go through your head, the first thing is to catch the ball, don’t take your eyes off the ball, drop it down on the foot and then hope for the best,” he said.
“As soon as I hit it I knew it was sweet. I called it before the set but as usual other players kept calling other plays and I was screaming for the ball, screaming for the ball and I got it. It was unreal to hit it sweet … just unbelievable.”
Brown’s field goal was the culmination of a fairytale as two uncles and his grandfather had previously played for the Magpies.
It also sent retiring captain-coach Dallas Waters out a winner.
As so often happens in grand finals, someone else’s Cinderella story over-rides that of another, in this case Northern United’s.
It was a bold effort by the Dirawongs considering it was their first season in the NRRRL and coach Chris Binge, captain Alwyn Roberts and everyone involved in the club should look back on 2009 with pride.
However, late yesterday afternoon the team was shattered.
Roberts was unlucky not to claim the player of the match award in front of Lower’s George Jarrett after setting up two tries and working himself to a standstill. He was understandably deflated at the loss.
“It was disappointing, first of all,” he said. “It was a gutsy effort by both sides but unfortunately they got us by one point.”
Binge lamented the stop-start nature of the match which played into the hands of the bigger Lower Clarence side.
“It was too stop-start. I mean we came here to play some footy and that game was stop-start,” he said.
“We need the game to flow. We had that for patches but we didn’t have it for long enough. Full credit to Lower, they’re a good side.
“I’m not too disappointed. If anything I’m disappointed for the boys more than anything, but I’m not too disappointed with the way the boys played or the way they’ve gone about their business all year.”
As a spectacle, for a match containing two potent attacking sides, there was a mountain of mistakes and turnovers.
Neither side really dictated to the other and play was continually punctuated by penalties and injuries.
Both sides were a shadow of the teams they had been all season but as the clock wound down the intensity rose because it was so close.
Lower struck first through hooker Sam Woods but his shortside scurry went unconverted and United got on the board with a penalty to Roy Bell.
Magpies winger Mikee Randall then scored the hosts’ second, again the try went unconverted, but United again hit back with a clever try to centre Chris Swan after a great pass from Roberts.
United surrendered the initiative just before half-time as evergreen lock Don Walker crashed through the defence for a converted try after a neat pass from Woods, leaving the score 14-8 at the break.
The mistakes rolled on in the second half but Randall soon scored his second, which gave the Magpies an 18-8 lead.
United then scored the try of the day. Fullback Bell raced on to a good ball after a bust by Roberts to score a converted try and it felt like the momentum of the match had swung towards the visitors.
However, five minutes later Brown landed a penalty goal which gave his side a 20-14 lead. In the end that penalty would prove crucial.
With 13 minutes remaining, United try-sneak Fred Waters finally got across the tryline after being well held for most of the game and Bell converted to level the scores at 20-all.
Hammond’s field goal attempt sailed wide shortly after and then Brown snatched the premiership with his one-pointer to break United hearts.
LOWER CLARENCE 21 (Mikee Randall 2, Sam Woods, Donny Walker tries; Grant Brown 2 goals, field goal) d NORTHERN UNITED 20 (Roy Bell, Fred Waters, Chris Swan tries; Roy Bell 4 goals). Half-time: Lower Clarence 14-8.