Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League fans won’t have long to wait to see a replay of last season’s thrilling grand final between Mullumbimby Giants and Ballina Seagulls.
They will clash in round two on April 20 at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina — the scene of Mullum’s last-gasp 34-30 win over the Seagulls.
Ballina had led 30-22 with less than 10 minutes remaining, but two late tries by the Giants gave them a fairytale win and capped a great debut season for coach Damon Scott, who was thrust into the position when the original coach resigned early in the season.
Mullumbimby will go into the April 20 grand final replay without having played in the first round, which will start on April 13. The Giants are drawn to play Evans Head in round one.
Evans Head will field only a reserve grade side this season, meaning the Giants’ first grade and Under-18 teams will have a bye first-up.
In the opening round on April 13:
- Lower Clarence Magpies will play Grafton Ghosts at Maclean. The Magpies had a solid season last year without ever threatening for premiership honours. The Ghosts really struggled last year and the Clarence River local derby will provide a good indication of how well they have recruited.
- Murwillumbah Mustangs will be at home to the Kyogle Turkeys. The Mustangs have been one of the leading teams since the formation of the NRRRL, while Kyogle have had mixed success over the past few seasons. At home, Murwillumbah will be favoured to win.
- Cudgen Hornets are at home to Ballina Seagulls. The Hornets were premiers in 2006 but the majority of their players defected to the stronger Gold Coast competition last year, and Cudgen struggled. Ballina Seagulls have lost players but have always been strong through their junior development program. Former Group One Player of the Year Graham Lees takes over the coaching duties this year from Chris Binge.
- Tweed Coast Raiders are at home to new team the Grafton Rhinos. The Raiders were semi-finalists last season, while the Rhinos are in the competition at the expense of the South Grafton Rebels. Tweed Coast will certainly provide a good indication of the strength, or lack thereof, of the new Grafton club.
- Casino RSM Cougars will host South Tweed Koalas at Queen Elizabeth Park, Casino. Always tough to beat at home, the Cougars have former coach Andrew Bartlett back at the helm after the retirement of Cavill Heugh. South Tweed were solid last year without being semi-finalists.
- Marist Brothers Rams are at home to Byron Bay Red Devils in Lismore. The Rams have been a dominant force for many seasons and this year should be no different. Byron picked up a couple of premierships in the former Group One competition but have struggled in recent years, although last season they showed promise.