Byron Bay rugby has made a triumphant return to first grade, defeating competition heavyweights Ballina 20-10 at the Recreation Fields on Saturday. Byron has a win and a draw from two outings this year.
The Bay has been absent from the top flight for almost a decade and with their squad depleted by injury and last minute unavailability (Byron had a squad of only 16 players) even the heartiest supporters feared the worst.
Byron settled quickly and dominated early play. In the forward exchanges, Tom Homer and Josh Smith were drive and passion personified while new forward Craig Wallace provided the technical leadership.
Byron missed an early penalty and after making two errors in possession the Bay was down 5-0 at the quarter hour. Ballina tightened their grip on the match and looked set to overwhelm their less experienced opponents.
Cue the Bay’s remarkable courage and desire. Harry Nuttall, having moved from his preferred backrow to the centres, was a juggernaut in the midfield. Ballina were forced into error and finally the pressure turned to points from the most unlikely of sources. Second rower Ryan Bretts, playing his first game since schoolboy rugby, burst through the Ballina defence like a World Cup veteran.
The tide turned again when Ballina lead 10-7 but Nuttall broke the visitors’ hearts with a superb solo try midway through the second half. Ace goal kicker and hero of last season’s Grand Final, Nathan Nicholls, was on song with a second conversion. When Nichols added two penalties, the last from inside his own half, the 500 strong crowd went into raptures.