Byron maintain unbeaten record in hard-fought last minute win.
The match between Byron Bay and Wollongbar Pioneers in Wollongbar was set up to be one of the biggest matches of the season and it definitely lived up to that title. With Byron sitting top of the table, but the home side Wollongbar still within striking distance, there was a lot at stake and neither team would be prepared to take a backwards step.
Byron started the stronger of the two sides, opening up the game early on with 1 to 15 working hard around the park and putting pressure on the opposition at every opportunity. It only took a number of minutes for Byron to get their first reward, a good maul after a quick lineout in the opposition 22 was stopped just short of the line, but provided Byron with the field position they needed and they weren’t going to pass it up. It was the Byron 10, John Laughlin who made the most of the territory, running hard at the line before selling a dummy which gave the strong Irish player just enough space to push his way over close to the corner.
The Byron pressure was unrelenting for most of the first half with two further tries, one from no.6 Craig Wallace who secured the ball at the back of strong driving maul and chose his moment well to break and push over the line. The other from Sean Nicholl who was able to collect and charge over the line, after a superb kick from Laughlin and chase from James Oakley forced a knock on from the collecting Wollongbar player. A mention must go to Oakley who was on fine form making numerous line breaks in all areas of the park and simply outpacing his support on occasions to prevent him from scoring several.
Wollongbar had a few chances in the first half, the best of which came when their halfback Hollman made a break down the wing and with a man free on the inside, he decided to throw a dummy which no.8 Evan Mallory had no intention of following. Mallory put in a crunching tackle on Hollman (Arguably the best of the day, although Byron centre Darrell Montgomery put in a number of big hits) which set the tone for the Byron defence all day.
With what seemed like every decision going the way of the home side Wollongbar were able to keep themselves within touching distance with their five-eight Benny Damen knocking over penalties from anywhere in the Byron half, a trend that he kept up for the entire match, only missing one kick out of 10 on the day.
Late in the first half after a series of Wollongbar mauls, the Byron no.4 Jack Cooke was picked up by an attacking player and dropped head first in an offside position, which the referee deemed as the Byron player preventing a try and not only saw fit to yellow card to Cooke, but also awarded a penalty try to Wollongbar. A matter of perspective leaving many Byron supporters in the crowd confused, as a card could have easily been given to a Wollongbar player for the dangerous tip.
The teams finished the first half with the Pioneers leading 19-15.
After the break Damen added a further penalty from just inside the Byron half before another fine team try from The Bay culminated in half back Harold Chiffoleau going over in the corner. Once again Laughlin, who was having an off day with the boot, missed the conversion from out wide.
Arguably the most controversial moment of the match developed mid-way through the second half, when there was an alleged eye gouge on Byron’s second row Jack Cooke. However the officials appeared to miss this and instead sent the other Byron second row Will Aisake to the bin for what was deemed a high shot on Ben Damen, leaving the away team and supporters rather perplexed. Damen stepped up to kick the resulting penalty which was his only miss of the day, however he quickly remedied the matter as Byron ill-discipline allowed him two more penalty kicks.
With the game coming to a close, a late flourish resulted in “the flying Welshman” Owain Roberts scorching over in the corner, after good interplay between Laughlin and Montgomery. This was followed by Byron quickly playing their way back into the Wollongbar 22. The pressure finally told when the Byron pack, who had been dominant in the set piece all day managed to get one last reward for their hard work as a superb scrum pushed over the Wollongbar line and Craig Wallace was able to dot it down. With 2 minutes left on the clock and Wollongbar in the lead by one point, Laughlin finally recovered his kicking form, managing to bisect the posts from the touchline. The young Byron team then showed maturity beyond their years to play out the rest of the game, with a number of strong carries from all the forwards, but notable efforts came from the returning Troy Wynter, Eddy O’Hare and Huw Owen who all helped to seal a dramatic late win.
Byron will now set their sights on their charity day in aid of Brain Cancer. The Bay will take on Lennox Head Trojans at the event this Saturday the 16th of July . The first home match for Byron since their round 3 clash against Wollongbar, they look forward to a good home crowd and all are welcome at the Byron bay rec fields for the day. With the second grade kick off at 1.30pm where Mullumbimby will face Lennox and the Byron first grade match against Lennox will kick off shortly after 3.00pm. We look forward to seeing you there.