INSPIRED displays by key forwards, Lynden Murphy and Luke Covell, helped Murwillumbah Mustangs post a hard-fought 23-10 over Byron Bay in the opening round of the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League season at Stan Sercombe Oval yesterday.
The game was an arm wrestle from the opening whistle and it was only inside the final seven minutes that the Mustangs made sure of the two competition points.
With the scoreline at 16-10, Mustangs five-eighth Matt Goodfellow, potted a simple field-goal to ensure that the visitors needed to score twice to eclipse their hosts.
However that became an irrelevancy just three minutes later when lock, Sean Dorney, pulled in a rebounded Mustangs kick and dived over near the posts, giving Covell a simple conversion - his first success after failing at his previous four attempts.
But if Covell's accuracy was astray with the boot his performance in general play more than made up for it.
He and Murphy ran hard at the defensive line, always making the yards after hitting the defenders and letting them know they were earning their keep.
Both men also threw themselves into tackles, putting plenty of venom into their hits - but for their whole-hearted, all-round performances the Red Devils may well have gone back down the highway singing their victory song.
Murphy's fellow prop, Shane Kijt, was a bit out of sorts in the first half but after the break he really put-in, running hard at the defence and crashing through on several occasions in a display which augured well for a successful season.
The Mustangs opened the scoring in only the fourth minute when new recruit, centre Michael Keating, scored in the corner after quick hands.
Scores were equal five minutes later when the Mustangs fumbled a Red Devils chip on their own line and their centre, Peter Flannery, gleefully pulled in the ball and dived over.
The Mustangs took a 8-4 lead in the break after Keating somehow managed to get in a tunnel-ball pass between his legs to for winger Michael Forrester to slip over inside the corner post.
Eleven minutes after the resumption Goodfellow kicked flat to the corner and the unmarked Damien Quinn caught it on the full and strode over untouched.
The Mustangs were in again in the 65th minute when Keating crossed for his second try after quick hands gave him the overlap.
But the Red Devils reduced the deficit to 16-10 with a converted try three minutes later to set the stage for an exciting finish.
Best for the Red Devils were rugged forwards Ben Malloy and Chris Glenstan.
Mustangs 23 (Michael Keating 2, Michael Forrester, Sean Dorney, Damien Quinn tries; Luke Covell goal) def Byron Bay 10 (Peter Flannery, Ryan O'Connell tries; Chris King goal).