Nambucca seal home grand final
A DECADE after their last Group 2 grand final appearance, Nambucca Heads will host the season decider following yesterday's sensational 34-18 defeat of Macleay Valley at Coronation Park.
Supporters should be applauding a magnificent rugby league spectacle but instead, the topic for the rest of the week (or until the judiciary sorts out another mess thrown before it) will be an alleged incident in the 68th minute and its aftermath.
The best player in his side to that point, Macleay five-eighth Nigel Hookey made a dashing run down the eastern touch line and crossed for what should have been the Mustangs' third try.
But it will be claimed that after placing the ball he fronted up to opponent Mick Ronan and head-butted the halfback.
After deliberating with touch judges, referee Nathan Grace dismissed Hookey but to the dismay of watchers he refused to leave the field.
Eventually persuaded to leave, Hookey then walked some way into the crowd before being collected by Macleay president Mike Spalding.
Play resumed and when referee Grace sent off Nambucca second-rower Djaan Jarrett it was almost missed that in the background Hookey had returned to the field, sparking uproar among spectators who in turn earned a rebuke from the ground announcer and caused police to move in to restore order.
Hookey then became involved in another slanging match with a security guard but finally was coaxed to the sheds but not before certain further allegations were reported to Group 2 officials concerning his actions and demeanour.
Why must the incident be reported in detail?
Because it was significant at the time as Macleay were finally getting their act together after a nervous start and it ruined any chance they had of turning the day around.
Had Hookey's “try” passed muster and the one scored soon after by Nathan Davis been factored in, the visitors would have been just four points in arrears and breathing down Nambucca's neck with plenty of time to win the game.
Instead, Geoff Batten crossed near the end to seal their fate.
“I was surprised by their game plan and couldn't believe we made so much ground up the middle,” winning coach Garren Stig said.
“They played us wrong, but as for our own effort, we still have a couple of things to work off in the next two weeks.”
If Macleay had tactical faults, especially hesitancy and confidence when defending, skipper Willie Lockwood put it down to inexperience and nerves.
“A lot of young blokes haven't played at this level before and they went out with their eyes wide,” he said.
“Now they're over that, watch for a better effort next week at home.
“I won't be worrying about Sawtell, just thinking of my Mustangs.”