The Byron Bay Rams Premier League Football team went into the third round of the Anzac Cup pre-season competition on the weekend as underdogs.
Last year the Goonellabah Hornets beat the Rams convincingly in each of their three games. A long list of unavailable top-line players and disappointing form in 1-1 draws to Ballina and Premier League debutants Pottsville over the previous two weeks also didn’t bode well for the Rams on paper.
Rams Coach Peter Ware totally restructured the squad during the week and was finally able to utilise the experience of captain, Tom Ruhl, back from suspension and utility defender Ian Lennie, now fully fit after a muscle injury.
The Byron home ground was in perfect condition and the Rams asserted themselves at the start with a solid strike from their new central midfielder, Irishman Greg McDonald, in a goalmouth melee, finding the net after only five minutes to take them to an early lead.
The Rams backline was rock solid with three new talented recruits, powerhouse Ben Coulter, Bruce Knaggs and brilliant 15-year-old ex FFNC representative player Sam Robson, with Lennie directing traffic.
Up front Ruhl was enjoying his first game and getting his eye in with a couple of strikes on goal. 20 minutes in, Sam Owens saw Tim Knight making a break up the middle and chipped a well-timed pass, allowing Knight to slip past the Hornets defenders and deceive the Hornets keeper, taking the score to 2-0.
Goonellabah returned fire and Rams’ in-form keeper was forced to make a brilliant fingertip save just before the break.
Goonellabah showed more control and dominance in the second half and kept looking for holes in the Rams defence. Thiago Priori and Mario Tinning were standouts in attack for the Hornets.
The Rams’ Shannan Maciejewski was unstoppable in the midfield, pairing up brilliantly with Coulter, his old teammate from Ballina FC. Time and again they redirected the Hornets attack. Nolan Pierce was also strong in the midfield.
From one of many lovely build-ups in play, Robson made a run down the flank and belted a cross off to Tom Ruhl hovering around goal. He took his chance with a flick into the net to demoralise the visitors 3-0.
With just 10 minutes to go the Rams had relaxed a little, allowing the Hornets to hit back with a late goal to salvage some dignity for their fans. However, arguably the best Rams play of the day came next when Robson made an excellent break down the sideline and crossed to Owens. He slipped a high pass to Ruhl waiting on the right of the Hornets goalmouth.
Ruhl made no mistake with a beautiful header into the top corner of the net to confirm victory at 4-1. With only two minutes to go, an uncharacteristic slip-up with a misdirected pass in the Rams backline caught Keeper Kai Connell off guard. Bruce Knaggs tried in vain to intercept the ball before it crossed the goal line but by then the win to Byron Bay was never in doubt and the final score stood at 4-2.
The make-up for the Anzac Cup finals is still in doubt at the moment, with several important rescheduled games still to play.
However, this Saturday the Rams will have a huge challenge when they take on Port Macquarie at home in the first round of the new Northern NSW Football Clubs knockout competition.
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