CRUNCHED: Grafton Redmen second-rower Angus Howard halts the progress of a Snappers player in Grafton's 35-21 preliminary final loss on Saturday.
CRUNCHED: Grafton Redmen second-rower Angus Howard halts the progress of a Snappers player in Grafton's 35-21 preliminary final loss on Saturday. Gary Nichols

HOPES DASHED: Redmen knocked out of finals running

RUGBY UNION: MCKIMMS Grafton Redmen's hopes of a Mid North Coast rugby first grade grand final appearance were dashed by a committed Coffs Harbour Snappers at Rugby Park South Grafton on Saturday.

Snappers survived an epic preliminary final battle to book a place in next week's Mid North Coast Rugby decider against Hastings Valley Vikings.

The visitors fell victim to an early onslaught from the Redmen before roaring back in the second half for a 35-21 victory.

Grafton came out of the blocks firing with two quick tries before Snappers mounted a spirited comeback to take a slender 21-14 lead at the break.

Grafton were guilty of missing far too many first-up tackles, but to their credit, withstood a barrage of attacking raids from a rampant Snappers outfit for most of the second half.

Starved of possession and down 28-14 on the scoreboard, the home side refused to buckle with scrambling line defence and try-saving tackles out wide.

As they have done on previous occasions, Grafton bounced back late in the second-half to trail by a converted try, however, a five-pointer on full-time against the run of play sealed a memorable Snappers' victory.

There is no denying Grafton missed the attacking flair of centre Greg Jackson and fullback Karrnunny Pearce, who both missed the game through injury.

For Redmen captain Kyle Hancock, the loss was a bitter pill to swallow considering Grafton took out the minor premiership.

"We came out firing in the first 20 minutes then lost our way," Hancock said.

"There were far too many errors and too many penalties which gave Snappers field position. I thought our line defence in the second half was huge.

"Losing Greg and Karrnunny was not ideal; they have been our best attacking weapons all season. But in saying that the guys who filled in did a fantastic job.

"We had a new-look side this year and to take out the minor premiership in our fiftieth year was a fantastic achievement."

Redmen first grade coach Craig Howe admitted Snappers' ability to maintain possession in the second half was the difference between the two sides.

"The first 25 minutes was almost perfect rugby from our guys but you can't take anything away from Snappers, they starved us of the ball and were too good on the day," Howe said.

"It was a very good season but we judge our success on where we should have been. As a team we think we should have been in the grand final, so the season was not as successful as we think it should have been."

Grafton second grade side advanced to next week's grand final with a gripping 24-22 win over Kempsey Cannonballs.



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