Rebels win sets up local derby grand final
A FIELD goal from Kayan Davis with 10 minutes remaining was all that separated South Grafton and Coffs Harbour in a thrilling Group 2 preliminary final.
The Rebels trailed by six points as the contest was headed towards its exciting climax but captain Grant Stevens barged over the try line to level the scores before Davis kicked the all important one-pointer.
The win sets up an all-Grafton affair in next week's grand final with the Rebels facing the undefeated Grafton Ghosts at Frank McGuren Park.
A fortnight ago Coffs Harbour dominated South Grafton to win 46-26 but this afternoon the Rebels were clearly a tougher nut to crack.
Stevens said the recipe for the improvement was a simple one.
"We capitalised when we had the ball and we definitely didn't go away from our game plan," Stevens said.
"I thought our defence around the middle was good, we did have a few lapses but we definitely fixed up that from two weeks ago.
"The boys to their credit showed some good character on our tryline and that comes down to what Ronnie (coach Ron Gordon) has been into us about all week at training."
The see-sawing encounter was worthy of a grand final.
South Grafton opened the scoring when Kieron Johnson-Heron dived on a grubber kick before the Comets hit back through a magnificent solo effort by centre Alex Wilson who broke through tackles near the half way line before racing away to score.
In the 23rd minute the Rebels again took the lead when hooker Rhys Walters found an unmarked Johnson-Heron on the right sideline to score.
Coffs ensured the teams would go to the sheds locked up at 12-all when Chad Isles put Josh Boyd through close to the line.
Coffs Harbour grabbed the lead for the first time shortly after the resumption when prop Matt Cheeseman barged over from close range.
South Grafton showed character to not only reply to even the scores again but then hit the lead.
Anthony Skinner was in plenty of space on the left side to score before a dramatic piece of luck wrested the match in the Rebels' favour.
To win big games you need an element of luck and it cam when a towering Kayan Davis bomb eluded Coffs Harbour fullback Michael Hart only to bounce up high and fall into the gleeful waiting arms of the chasing Karl Woodley.
The Comets again tied up the ball game when a flick pass from five-eighth Simon Brittain-Snowden to halfback Nathan Curry created space for the Comets to quickly put South Grafton on the back foot and forward Ryan Gilkinson charged over the line out wide.
The Comets hit the lead again after Brogan Melrose gathered a Curry grubber close to the line and spun through a tackle to score.
Just when the Comets thought victory might just be within their grasp, up stepped Stevens and Davis for their late heroics.
When Davis gave the Rebels the lead there was still plenty of time for Coffs Harbour to hit back, and there were opportunities.
Twice the Comets ventured to within field goal range but rather than have a shot at probably sending the match into extra time, Coffs Harbour ran the ball left only to have Wilson taken across the sideline and Nayden Simon unable to get on the end of a grubber kick before the ball went dead.
Coach Kerrod Selmes was unable to play for the Comets after sustaining an injury in last week's major semi final.
Having been beaten in the preliminary final for the second straight year, Selmes had difficulty hiding his disappointment.
"I can't pick a fault in the effort of the boys, just some execution that's all it was," Selmes said.
"The Rebels kept bouncing back and they were the better team on the day I suppose."
SOUTH GRAFTON 31 (Kieron Johnson-Heron 2, Anthony Skinner, Karl Woodley, Grant Stevens tries; Kayan Davis 5 goals; Davis field goal) def COFFS HARBOUR 30 (Alex Wilson, Josh Boyd, Matt Cheeseman, Ryan Gilkinson, Brogan Melrose tries; Nathan Curry 5 goals).
Reserve grade: Sawtell def Grafton Ghosts 20-18
Under-18s: Grafton Ghosts def South Grafton 26-6
Ladies League Tag: South Grafton def Sawtell 26-12