Rebels injury toll rises ahead of tough road to finals
RUGBY LEAGUE: South Grafton Rebels' finals hopes have been dealt a major blow with the loss of Izack Smidt and Luke French because of second-half injuries in Sunday's 30-28 loss to Sawtell Panthers.
South Grafton led 18-16 eight minutes into the second half when Smidt came from the field for a head injury assessment due to an unfortunate head clash with teammate Grant 'Stumpy' Stevens.
Minutes later French was down in back play with an ankle complaint, and after attempting to play on, eventually succumbed to the injury.
Coach Ron Gordon fielded some bad news in two separate phone calls over the next 24 hours.
"We've got a bit of an injury toll now, losing Izack Smidt and Luke French," Gordon said.
"Not many come off too good after a clash with Stump's head. Izack is out for a couple of weeks with a concussion and possible fractured eye socket.
"Luke went up to hospital last night and the doctor said he had some ligament damage so it looks like he won't be able to play these next two round games."
Gordon's men enter a precarious period with do-or-die games away to Macksville Sea Eagles and at home to Orara Valley Axemen to round out the home and away season.
This Sunday's trip to Macksville is of particular importance with the Sea Eagles just one competition point behind the fifth placed Rebels.
"Two tough games. They've both beaten us this year," Gordon said.
"If we are any chance of playing in the finals we have to beat Macksville. It's a hard game down in Macksville. Even in the two years we won the premiership we struggled to win down there.
"It was disappointing that we had a couple of of blokes pull out on us late on the weekend. We were in the hunt for a home semi, but that's all out the window and we've got to keep our focus just to play finals footy now."
Wearing number nine against Sawtell, Smidt played the match at five-eighth to fill in for the late withdrawal of Allan McKenzie. The 18-year-old provided much of the side's attacking spark, including a long range solo raid to set French up for one of the tries of the year in just the third minute, and a try of his own to put the Rebels ahead moments before the injury.
The youngster, who came across from Woolgoolga Seahorses in 2018, is just seven days too old to play Under-18s and represented Group 2 Under-23s against Group 3 this season.
"He's got awesome footwork, it's his biggest attribute," Gordon said.
"He started the season off at fullback when I had Kieren Stewart playing at nine, and he also played five-eighth in the two games against Nambucca.
"He's a bit of a jack of all trades, a good little footballer."
Sunday's match saw the return of 2015 premiership halfback Ant Cowan who, apart from a 10-minute stint in the sin bin, had a strong influence in attack and defence.
"He's only had one ball run with us and he's already taken control," Gordon said.
"He's the ingredient we needed and it's a shame we didn't have him all year."