Top 10 Group 2 defining moments of 2018
RUGBY LEAGUE: While most teams have begun preparations towards the 2019 Group 2 season, we thought the turning over of the New Year was a perfect time to reflect on the year gone by.
It was a tumultuous season for the Group 2 ranks, with teams dropping out of the race at the last minute, and a lack of under 18s side forcing a disjointed competition.
But there was also plenty of positives, including the continued rise of women in the greatest game of all.
Here's our top 10 season defining moments from the 2018 Group 2 rugby league season.
10. Crafty Cameron continues his form
GRAFTON Ghosts dummy-half Todd Cameron has always been a player of skill and consistency, but in the past two seasons he has taken his game to a new level.
He still gets through a mountain of work on the defensive end, as any hooker worth his salt will, but it is his ability to read the game, sum it up in a split second, and take full advantage that has kept the Ghosts on the front foot in recent years.
And it isn't going unnoticed by the opposition. Cameron's efforts earned him the coveted Group 2 best and fairest award for 2018.
9. Season schedule from hell
WHEN Woolgoolga pulled out of the competition weeks out from the season kick-off, everyone knew scheduling was going to become a nightmare.
We just didn't know how much of a nightmare it would be.
The Ghosts hosted the Coffs Harbour Comets in back-to-back weeks, the Rebels took on Macksville twice in three weeks and Orara Valley and Sawtell met four times in a year.
8. Ghosts get early wake-up call
AFTER going through the previous season unscathed, the Ghosts would have forgotten what losing felt like.
But they got a stark reminder in the early stages of the season when Sawtell and Orara Valley shocked the reigning champions in their opening two home games.
With margins of two and four points respectively, the tight tussles had many Ghosts fans scratching their heads, while captain-coach Danny Wicks referred to it as a wake-up call his side needed.
The Ghosts would go on to not drop another game in the regular season on their charge to the minor premiership.
7. Five-year plan begins to bear fruit
ONE of the biggest moments of the 2018 Group 2 season occurred at the end of 2017, when the Axemen re-signed coach Col Speed.
The man who had led both Grafton and Coffs Harbour to premierships had a five-year plan in place at Orara and he was quickly making good on his promises.
Speed's brigade, led by the smart recruitment of former Tomahawk Buddy Hart, would soon rise to the occasion.
They took out the annual Hoey Moey Coffs Coast 9s competition despite fierce competition and would take turns knocking off the competition's best sides.
6. Welch lay-off bruises Rebel hopes
WHILE many of the plaudits for the Rebels success over the past four years have fallen on big-name players Grant Stevens and Hugh Stanley, a lot has to be said for the consistency of Luke Welch.
The lock is a tackling machine and provides a lot of the Rebels go forward when they need it most.
So when he fractured his eye socket in a nasty incident in the side's shock win over Sawtell, it was no surprise coach Ron Gordon wasn't celebrating too hard.
Welch was out of action for an extended period and the Rebels would go on to win one out of their next four matches, as the fortress at McKittrick Park began to show cracks.
5. Battle of the River starts year off right
AT the time it was viewed as a scheduling mishap to have the Rebels and Ghosts square off on day one of the season, but it proved to be the perfect start.
There were no preconceived notions heading into the clash. Both teams had hit the reset switch since their meeting in the 2017 grand final, and no one had the upper hand.
The fans knew it too, with the crowd at McKittrick Park excited for the unknown.
4. Women take local league to next level
IF the inaugural Group 2 ladies league tag season was a success in 2017, last year the competition was taken to even further heights.
The addition of the Grafton Ghosts only increased the level of competition in the league, and added a new element to the Battle of the River local derby against the Rebels.
The telling moment of the year came in the grand final, when the two best sides of the season, the Rebels and Sawtell Panthers, went head to head over a gruelling 60 minutes.
It would be the supreme defence of the Rebels that prevailed in the wet at Geoff King Motors Oval.
3. Costin's semi-final heroics
IT went on to win the big one for the first time in four years, but the defining moment for champion Coffs Harbour came 85km from home.
Sensing a need to reduce the game time and workload on aging hooker Kerrod Selmes, Comets coach Brandon Costin turned to the mirror for inspiration.
The 47-year-old wound back the clock, as he strapped on the boots to come off the bench in the qualifying semi-final against Grafton.
In a moment of genius, it was a runaway Costin who put the final nail in the Ghosts coffin.
He would go on to pull on the boots again in the grand final helping his side get home on a blustery day at Geoff King Motors Oval.
2. Macksville's dream never diminishes
A YEAR in rugby league can feel like a long time, but in the case of Macksville Sea Eagles it felt like a millennia.
A year after being beaten by 100 points at Frank McGuren Field, the Sea Eagles returned to the Ghosts graveyard in the preliminary final with nothing but hope.
After scraping through into the Group 2 finals by a solitary point, Macksville had fought tooth and nail to upset a strong Sawtell in the elimination final and back up that effort against Orara Valley the following week.
It was the ultimate tale of the underdog, and despite no one giving them a chance against the minor-premiers in Grafton the Sea Eagles would pull off the unthinkable.
They soon became the fairytale of Group 2, and while they failed to overcome Coffs Harbour in the first grade decider, no one will ever forget the Eagles' finals flight.
1. Queen of the Valley makes history
NAMBUCCA Heads Roosters were a club in turmoil throughout the Group 2 season.
A lack of players, and discipline, soon had the club without a dedicated first grade side. They also lacked a leader in the reserve grade ranks.
But not ones to throw their hands up in anguish, the Roosters troops bowed their heads and kept fighting. Most players were forced to play two games every weekend. They were pummelled in first grade, but still they fought on.
And it was the stoicism of one woman, who made it all work for the club: Caryl Jarrett.
Jarrett made Group 2 history, becoming the first woman to coach a men's reserve grade outfit. But she wasn't happy to just rest on those laurels.
With her determination, the woman dubbed the "Queen of the Valley”, Jarrett helped the Roosters reserves to an unbelievable premiership victory.
A victory that will go down in the annals of Group 2 history.