A GALLANT Cudgen has fallen to Ballina 32-24 in a hard-fought Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League grand final at Kingsford Smith Park, Ballina on Sunday.
It was a case of so close, yet so far for Cudgen, who looked headed for a first title in 11 years early, before being run down by Ballina, who piled on 18 second-half points to claim their fourth premiership in five years.
Despite playing almost the entire game with only 12 men after lock Anthony Flores was ejected in the opening minutes after a spear tackle on Ballina half Jess Perry, Cudgen were brave and set the tone for almost the entire first-half.
Ballina front-rower Dylan Montgomery was also sin-binned in the incident, but in front of hundreds of fans who jam-packed the ground, Ballina claimed first points after a penalty goal following the Flores' send-off put them 2-nil up.
A determined Cudgen fought back, and a splitting run saw Jake Sands cross the line on the right wing for the first of three Cudgen tries in-a-row, which saw them jump out to a 14-2 lead.
While Cudgen had the momentum for long periods, Ballina were able to stay in the contest in the first-half through a host of penalties.
Cudgen jumped out to a 20-8 lead after playing coach Pat Rosser crossed, but another penalty resulted in Ballina's Alex Grant crossing on the half-time siren to reduce the margin six points.
Ballina took control of the contest in the second-half after a try to second-rower Justin Shillingsworth locked things up at 20-all, before fullback Oliver Regan also crossed to put the Seagulls ahead 26-20.
An undermanned Cudgen could have folded, but to their credit, they fought back and when Conor Mills latched onto a Caleb Ziebell pass for his second try, an unlikely victory looked possible.
But when Grant split the Cudgen defence and offloaded to second-rower Anthony Colman for a try, Ballina was home.
Cudgen's Caleb Ziebell capped off an amazing season with a player of the match award, to go with an NRRRL player of the year award.
In other games, Ballina took out the Under-18s grand final 26-18 in extra-time against Casino.
Marist Brothers completed an undefeated season, sealing a 20-12 win over Cudgen in reserves.
Byron Bay won the ladies league tag 12-8 over Marist Brothers.