By GREG WHITE
A GAMBLE to switch positions between a North Coast representative half and a journeyman fullback gave Nambucca Heads enough momentum to edge out Woolgoolga 28-24 at Coronation Park yesterday.
Taking to the custodian's role as if he'd spent his entire career in the number one jumper, Willy Baker continually beat the first man and seemingly made breaks at will.
'Rookie' scrum-feeder Warwick Jones relished the freedom to take on the Seahorses defensive line and his roving commission always found him the crucial link man between the main ball players.
"I toyed with the idea of changing them around for the last three weeks but was worried I'd fall flat on my face," Roosters captain-coach Geoff Batten said.
"But we had nothing to lose today, so I bit the bullet.
"They each brought a lot more options to our attack and now I'll have trouble putting them back to where they normally start."
Played on a cold, grey afternoon with slight showers scudding across the ground, rarely did the game reach great heights due equally to the stop-start nature and the ritual of injuries affecting players from both teams.
Both sides lost players to the sin bin forcing time to be eaten up by the obligatory dressing down from referee Faron Nelson and veteran Nambucca centre Mark Davidson departed the second occasion he broke down with a knee injury, at a time when he was making a sustained impact on the direction the match was taking.
"So many hold-ups in the game stopped both teams from getting a roll-on and from our point of view, played havoc with field position," Woolgoolga's sidelined coach, Michael Close, said.
So wary was Close of the difficulties presented by the Roosters and as it proved, justifiably so he considered strapping his broken finger and taking the field.
But at the last moment commonsense prevailed and he re-arranged his forward pack and the new back-row pairing of Ryan Hartin and brother Adam Close almost stole the show.
The scoreline swung like a pendulum. Twice the margin was level and seven times the lead changed hands, three times in the last quarter hour.
With three minutes remaining, the Seahorses hit the front and from the re-start, the Roosters dragged play to the opposite end.
Hooker Luke Heighington scooted across from dummy half and again the home side looked comfortable.
But Woopi launched one final, desperate raid as the full-time bell sounded.
Ryan Farrell put Marley Weller into open spaces down the western touchline when Mick Ronan appeared from nowhere to drive the lanky replacement out of play, 12 metres from the line.
"A 'Scott Sattler' special," Batten grinned.
"I was wiping sweat off my forehead and it was a relief to see the touchie's flag go up."
The loss puts enormous pressure on Woolgoolga while keeping alive the Roosters' slim hopes of climbing the premiership table.