Rhinos' finals dream still alive
THE Grafton Rhinos booked themselves a place in next week's elimination semi-final after holding out a gallant Magpies 36-23 at the Maclean Showground yesterday.
In what can only be described as a brutal, bruising affair, the Rhinos emerged clear winners on the day but not before the home side gave them one almighty scare late in the second half.
The sideline resembled a casualty ward as players from both sides felt the full brunt of some punishing defence.
One player was carted off on stretcher, three more were sent to the blood bin and three were whisked away to hospital as fierce exchanges continued for the entire 80 minutes.
Ahead 18-8 at the break, the Rhinos looked like taking a stranglehold on the game but the Magpies fought back.
But with a mountain of possession something had to give and it was not long before Rhinos' centre Jone Macilai crossed over out wide.
The Rhinos then extended their lead to 28-14 giving them much-needed breathing space but just when they looked like cruising to victory the Magpies scored two tries within 10 minutes.
Trailing 28-22 with 15 minutes to go the Magpies were at it again when fullback – and arguably their best player – Joel Moss split the defence wide open.
With only the fullback to beat Moss was hit by Rhinos' Aaron Martin with what appeared to be a high shot and the ball was spilt over the line.
The Rhinos received the feed for the ensuing scrum feed and star centre Joe Ravueta caught the Magpies defence napping to sprint 90 metres to score under the posts.
Lower Clarence Magpies coach Ricky Binge was critical of the referee, questioning his interpretation of the 10-metre rule.
“It was a good game and very physical ... a few guys ended up in hospital,” Binge said.
“They were always off-side. We were yelling from the bench and it was very frustrating when our guys were trying to make the hit-ups.
“They're getting eight metres and still in front of the referee. But apart from the refereeing it was a very good game of footy.
“I think we could have won the game if the referee kept the players apart.”
Binge added he thought the alleged high shot on Moss had changed the game.
“Mossy was set to score and he received a high shot. I'm at a loss to why they received the ball,” he said.
Rhinos coach Shane Osborne described his side's performance as “gutsy” after losing several players throughout the game.
The Rhinos will play Evans Head at Evans next week in the elimination semi-final.