Grafton Ghosts captain Danny Wicks and South Grafton Rebels captain Karl Woodley face off before the first round local derby.
Grafton Ghosts captain Danny Wicks and South Grafton Rebels captain Karl Woodley face off before the first round local derby.

RIVALS: Celebrating 50 years of Grafton derby deciders

THE Grafton derby has gone on to become one of the biggest rivalries in bush footy.

Red versus blue, north versus south and nothing but the Clarence River to come between them.

It is a recipe for a blood-boiling encounter every time they meet.

This year, on September 27, the Grafton Ghosts and South Grafton Rebels will celebrate 50 years since their first grand final meeting in 1970.

While the Lower Clarence Magpies have always welcomed some hard-hitting competition against the Ghosts and the Rebels, the past 10 years has left them without a derby in the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League competition while the Grafton rivalry has only grown stronger.

 

South Grafton Rebels fans picture a week before the 1977 grand final against the Grafton Ghosts. Photo from Robert Lawrence
South Grafton Rebels fans picture a week before the 1977 grand final against the Grafton Ghosts. Photo from Robert Lawrence

 

The Rebels, founded in 1914, have nearly 50 years on their greatest rivals, who weren't founded until 1963.

But where the Rebels have history, the Ghosts' have recent success, with seven premierships across three competitions compared to two during the past 20 years from the red side of town.

One anonymous Clarence rugby league fanatic took the time to reflect on some of the first major meetings between the two sides.

"1970 was the first ever grand final between South Grafton Rebels and Grafton Ghosts at the Grafton Showground, a forerunner to the next time they'd meet in a grand final seven years later in arguably the greatest ever seen in the Clarence," the fanatic said.

"Reg Parkhouse reported on the first grand final that was played in pouring rain. The game was called on 2GF by Jack Burgess, his last game before retiring and handing over the reigns to Adrian (Chick) Carter."

 

Grafton Ghosts take on Ballina Seagulls for a spot in the 1977 grand final against the South Grafton Rebels.
Grafton Ghosts take on Ballina Seagulls for a spot in the 1977 grand final against the South Grafton Rebels.

 

Reflecting on the first big dance between the Ghosts and the Rebels, the fanatic said there were some unusual events in the lead-up the game.

"There were some bizarre rules at the time around ground allocations for finals games that were totally unfair in my opinion," they said.

"Lower Clarence were minor premiers by four points on the ladder and yet had to play South Grafton in the major semi-final on the Grafton Showground. South, as underdogs, go on to win, so Lower Clarence had to play the fourth-placed Ghosts in the elimination final at Casino of all places.

"Then the Ghosts win and go on to play South Grafton in the grand final on their home ground. In other words, after finishing fourth in a four-team final series, Ghosts got to host the grand final, how bizarre."

As memories of the past flooded back, the fanatic remembered some details of the game back then that would be frowned upon in the modern era.

"In 1970 and the '60s there was little to no pre-game warm-ups except for a few short sprints, maybe," he said.

 

Grafton Ghosts take on Ballina Seagulls for a spot in the 1977 grand final against the South Grafton Rebels.
Grafton Ghosts take on Ballina Seagulls for a spot in the 1977 grand final against the South Grafton Rebels.

 

"Players played with their socks pulled up and often had long-sleeved guernseys made of heavy cotton. They played with heavy leather footballs and there were no kicking tees. Just a bucket of sand a self-made divot to stand the ball up. There was no round-the-corner kicking, toe pokers only. You wouldn't have trainers to run your water. The closest thing was someone getting you a 'magic sponge' full of liniment.

"There was no such things as left and right centre, it was inside and outside centres such as the great Mick Cronin and the Zip-Zip Man, Steve Ella."

Vivid highlights of the games were but a distant memory by the next time the sides had met in a Group 2 decider.

"After the 1977 grand final, long-suffering supporters had to wait 39 years before they got to see another one, albeit it in a second-tier competition like Group 2," the fanatic said.

The Rebels and Ghosts sit at one-a-piece for modern grand finals but without any competition this year, they'll need to wait at least another year for the next.

 

Every Grafton derby grand final

Ghosts vs Rebels, Grafton Showground, 1970 Ghosts vs Rebels, Grafton Showground, 1977 Rebels 26-12 Ghosts, McKittrick Park, 2016 Ghosts 32-12 Rebels, Frank McGuren Field, 2017


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