Coffs Comets edge out Grafton Ghosts in an absolute thriller
FANS expected a thriller in the first rugby league meeting between Coffs Harbour and Grafton in 50 years and that's what they got.
The Comets came from behind to beat the Ghosts 18-12 in a match that was tense, close and ferocious.
The body contact was a throwback to the classic contests of the 1980s and 90s and pure joy to watch.
Either side could have won.
Ghosts' fullback Mitch Lollback went over for the only try of the first half and the visitors went to the break knowing that while they may have been marginally the better side, they still hadn't overcome their rivals.
It's been many seasons since the Comets had tangled with an opponent with so much defensive intensity and they struggled to put a handle on it.
Slowly but surely, they began to work out Grafton's game and the turning point came in the 55th minute when halfback Nathan Curry went over before converting to lock the game up 6-6.
"Until then our completions were low and maybe we got back into it when they weren't coming up with anything from the sets we handed over," winning coach Colin Speed said.
"Our blokes just kept hanging in and with the amount of ball we were giving them, they should have won by 50."
The Ghosts hit back with a pearler of a try from inside Coffs Harbour's red zone.
Prop Ryan Binge ran an angle to the left of the posts and with an around-the-corner pass from his right side, found Jayden McDonogh screaming straight up the middle.
Matt Muller's conversion made it 12-6 and again, Coffs could have dropped the bundle when Abel Lefaoseu was sin-binned.
Back they came with Michael Meadows charging towards the scoreboard corner and from a quick play-the-ball, Andrew Smith went over to put Coffs level again.
Grafton bombed a certain try after the restart, only for the Comets to launch one final raid which ended with Smith again crossing for the clincher.
"On this occasion, maybe we were a little in awe and structure wasn't right," Speed said.
"The speed of the game was of high intensity."
Ghosts' boss Ryan Farrell was far from distressed by the experience and indicated the learning experience was what counted most.
"It was a cracker of a game," he said.
"We lost Todd (Cameron) our hooker about the 20 minute mark and allowed Coffs some leeway.
"The year's only three games old and today isn't the be-all and end-all.
"We still have a few out and will be much stronger when we meet them again."
There were some mutterings with the above-average penalty count run up by referee Nathan Grace, mainly for high tackles and encroachment inside the 10-metres.
However, in the context of a game that had enough passion to last an entire season, his rulings allowed play to continue without the physicality developing into a donnybrook.
From start to finish he was scrupulously fair and consistent and contributed immensely to a superior spectacle.
COFFS HARBOUR COMETS 18 (Andrew Smith 2, Nathan Curry tries; Nathan Curry 3 goals) def GRAFTON GHOSTS 12 (Mitch Lollback, Jayden McDonogh tries; Matt Muller 2 goals)
Scrums: Coffs Harbour 14-10
Penalties: Grafton 17-12
Errors: Coffs Harbour 10, Grafton 9
At Geoff King Motors Oval, Coffs Harbour
Referee: Nathan Grace
Macksville Sea Eagles d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo Magpies 34-12
South Grafton Rebels d Orara Valley Axemen 64-4
Woolgoolga Seahorses d Sawtell Panthers 32-18
Coffs Harbour d Grafton 36-16
Macksville d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 44-14
South Grafton d Orara Valley 26-8
Sawtell d Woolgoolga 22-14
Coffs Harbour d Grafton 16-14
Macksville d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 24-18
South Grafton received forfeit from Orara Valley
Woolgoolga d Sawtell 22-18