PLAYERS from both teams won't need much rocking to put them to sleep tonight following Woolgoolga's 29-20 win over Sawtell at Rex Hardaker Oval.
A tough, desperate slog from start to finish, the game featured plenty of torrid forward engagements which to the credit of all participants rarely threatened to turn into open warfare.
Yes, there were a couple of flare-ups and one hit on Sawtell halfback Danny Russell deserved stronger action than a penalty but the sheer physicality was reminiscent of a semi final match-up.
Add in patches of brilliant attacking play from both teams and only the toughest markers wouldn't be happy with the fare on offer.
Sawtell lost simply because they allowed Woolgoolga to bounce out of the traps to lead 18-0 by the break.
Once ends were changed they poured on the pressure to race in three tries off the bat and at one stage trailed by a mere two points with time up their sleeves.
Unfortunately, critical lapses in concentration let them down at vital stages.
There were some suggestions that the slow pace from the start didn't suit the Panthers who may have preferred a faster game but co-coach Damian Irvine didn't agree.
"Woopi have a big pack and the overnight rain on the ground didn't help us but we still went okay," he said.
"Three missed opportunities or three mistakes allowed them to score their tries and I always felt we were not playing all that bad."
Joe Ravueta scored two passes after Wil Fernando regathered a chip kick that caught the home side's fringe defence unawares.
Then, Sukhpal Mahli should have scored against his old club but juggled the ball over the line ... and didn't his former "fans" howl with delight.
More missed tackles by Sawtell close to the line allowed the visitors to cross twice but if the Seahorses had been cold and clinical in the first session, their concentration turned decidedly pedestrian upon returning to the field.
One probable reason for that was the physical toll taken on the players.
It was noticed that seven interchanges had already been made, compared to only three by the Panthers
Coach Greg Shuttleworth said dropping momentum neither surprised him nor caused too much angst.
"After last week we needed to find an extra 10 per cent - which we did - and I wanted patience and discipline - which I got," he said.
"I think we should have been more than 18 up at half time but having said that, another problem that's continuing is we didn't defend penalties."
Referee Kirk Taylor penalised Woolgoolga 4-0 in the second half and certain resentments that stirred up in the crowd may have rubbed off on players who heard the howling over their shoulders.
"I'm not saying the bloke in the middle was right or wrong but Sawtell scored all four tries after penalties.
"We let them back into the game and almost contributed to our own downfall which is something else we have to address."
Woolgoolga botched two tries with the gates open wide and Sawtell slaughtered one golden opportunity after a momentary lapse in concentration.
Fernando sealed the win with another chip-and-chase near the end when he caught sole defender Troy Robinson isolated and going in the opposite direction over in the scoreboard corner and then rubbed in salt with a final drop goal.
"We're still a work in progress, will have a talk about today and then try to improve for next week," Shuttleworth added.
In many cases Sawtell's wet sail second half would have claimed an unlikely victory and co-coach Irvine wasn't too badly disappointed.
"The good attitude came back today and if we'd held the ball in the second half we could have won the game," he said.
WOOLGOOLGA SEAHORSES 29 (L Munro 2 J Ravueta M Grayson W Fernando tries W Fernando 4 goals W Fernando field goal) bt SAWTELL PANTHERS 20 (T Robinson B Dulin E Harrison C Cook tries D Russell 2 goals).
Penalties: Sawtell 7-3
Errors: Woolgoolga 11, Sawtell 8
At Rex Hardaker Oval, Toormina
Referee: Kirk Taylor
Reserve grade: Woolgoolga 23 bt Sawtell 8.
Under 18s: Sawtell bye.
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