Late surge by Rebels to escape the clutches of plucky Axemen
WITH eight minutes left on the clock and South Grafton clinging desperately to a six point lead, a cruel catastrophe struck Orara Valley.
Veteran fullback Clark Webb spied the unguarded goal posts 20 metres in front and as he prepared to motor through a widening gap, the football balanced precariously on his fingertips was snatched away from his grasp.
Was it a strip or was it just one of those things?
Whatever, seconds later the Rebels went over at the opposite end for the four-pointer that gave the ultimate breathing space.
The visitors finished up winning 42-32 after the Axemen crossed for the last try but relieved coach Dallas Waters wasn't too proud to admit "they gave us a fright."
"Before the game we had to make six changes and it not only made us hesitate a bit, the structure wasn't always there," he said.
"Near the end I felt a lot more confident but it's obvious we will have to lift more than that as the semis are getting closer and closer."
Mal Webster made his return but is obviously missing his injured scrum base partner Ant Cowan.
Roy Bell is the other member of the Rebels' dynamic attacking trio and Waters hinted it could be as long as another three or four weeks before they reunite.
For most of the game, Orara provided thrills not seen since the glory days and the 'Broad Axemen' enjoying their annual Old Boys function, lapped it up.
Webb and Chris Shears were exceptional, while young forwards Jarrod Few, Jared Roberts and Ben Groenwegen played out of their skins.
The first half ended at 22-all after the teams turned on fantastic entertainment by using the full width of the field.
Referee Dave Honeybrook kept the sides well apart and the players responded to the delight of the fans with plenty of razzle dazzle.
The Rebels scored the first two tries after the break to put the Axemen in catch-up mode and the home side made three critical errors.
They had three penalties in a row go against them for manhandling in the play-the-ball.
Worse, the transgressions occurred up the Rebels end of the field, meaning hard won ground was handed away cheaply at a time fatigue was tapping each one on the shoulder.
But overall it was another exceptional performance by the Axemen and coach Kevin Neighbour found himself swaying between pride at the effort and frustration at what might have been.
"Both sides went for it and the game was enjoyable but we still dropped off in those little things you must do to finish a winner," he said.
"Every week we are in a position to win but it seems to be a novel thing to them as it's been a long time since it was like that.
"They keep getting better every week and everybody is stepping up.
"I can't fault anyone.
"Honestly, I'm happy with how we are going but at the same time, it's been another day when we'll ask ourselves later about what could have been."
South Grafton d Orara Valley 42-32
Coffs Harbour d Grafton 32-18
Macksville d Sawtell 44-22
Nambucca Heads d Bellinger Valley-Dorrigo 92-10