Pioneers win despite three yellow cards
A LATE penalty goal to Wollongbar-Alstonville fullback Sam Kerry sealed a 19-12 win over Byron Bay in the Far North Coast rugby unionmajor semi-final.
The Pioneers were made to work for it as they were reduced to 12 men at one point in the second half at Lyle Park, Wollongbar, on Saturday.
All three players were yellow-carded for repeated team infringements.
The win means the defending premiers will play in a fourth straight grand final at Crozier Field, Lismore.
"The character the boys showed in the second half was amazing," Wollongbar captain Ben Damen said.
"It's reassuring to know that we can dig deep like that when we have to.
"We didn't play our best rugby but we'll take the win and enjoy the week off."
Damen was one of the three players yellow-carded along with centre Nathaniel Regueira and No 8 Jerry Faifaise.
Earlier, Damen orchestrated a backline play which led to Regueira crossing, taking them to a 16-0 lead.
Byron Bay hit back with tries to front-rower Wally Andrews and fullback James Oakley.
"The way we came back in the second half will give us some momentum now," Byron coach Paul Jeffery said.
"I thought we dominated at set pieces and we'll probably take more out of the game than they (Wollongbar) will.
"The pressure was on them to get through today and they got the result they wanted but to a point we got what we wanted too."
Byron had a nervous start with Wollongbar halfback Justyn Keir scoring an easy try.
Penalty goals to Kerry gave the Pioneers an 11-0 lead going into half-time.
Flanker Tim Ellis, second-rower Matt Scott and Faifaise were Wollongbar's best.
The Pioneers have another four players who will be available for selection in the grand final.
Forwards Joel Crowther, Rhys McNaughton, Steve Mison and Vaughan Sandral all missed the semi-final.
Byron will get suspended second-rower Will Aisake back for the preliminary final on Saturday.
It was the usual suspects for Byron with props Josh Elborn and Aaron Shakeshaft, flanker Craig Wallace and centre Jascha Saeck their stand-outs.
MAJOR SEMI-FINAL SCORES
Wollongbar-Alstonville 19 (Justyn Keir, Nat Regueira, tries, Sam Kerry 3 penalty goals) d Byron Bay 12 (James Oakley, Wally Andrews tries, Brandon Lewsey conversion). Half-time: Wollongbar 11-0.