By GREG WHITE
AS the club victory song faded away in the Coffs Harbour dressing room at Advocate Park yesterday, the Comets players were still pinching themselves in hope the thrilling 20-14 win over Sawtell wasn't a dream.
Coffs won, simply, by doing the unthinkable.
They took on the meanest, toughest, highest rated pack of forwards in Group 2 and skittled them.
"Isn't it wonderful how those so-called no-names lifted above what many think they are capable of," Comets coach Scott Mieni said with a smile that wouldn't be out of place on a hangman.
"I got back from the Country game early this morning, tired as hell and hoping for the best, and then these blokes go and do something as good as this."
The Comets were on the scoreboard early for a 6-0 advantage before Sawtell struck back with a converted double, taking a 12-6 lead into the break.
"All I told them at half time was to keep plugging away and not to drop their intensity," Mieni said.
"Concentrate on marker defence and watch Sawtell on the edges."
When Sawtell did go the long way round they found vulnerability in the Comets defensive line.
But they kept turning the ball back infield, back to where the Comets forwards were waiting with open arms.
By this stage, Sawtell coach Craig Wallace admitted to the first feelings of apprehension.
"Sometimes you start to feel frustrated," he said.
"We just did some things that weren't particulary clever."
A full 30 minutes from the end, the Panthers showed signs of desperation creeping in with oodles of time remaining.
Still holding on to a six point lead, Greg Shuttleworth took an off the beam shot at field goal, almost as an afterthought, which only encouraged Coffs to kick up a gear.
Keeden Williams scored, Nathan Davies grabbed a penalty to keep the Panthers in front by the skin of their teeth, but then Keeden Williams raced in again to draw level at 14-all.
From there, the Comets grafted their way to clear superiority.
By the time Coffs made the last crossing and the final extras were added, no way were the Panthers coming back.
"I guess that was close to how a semi final is played," winning coach Mieni said.
"If we get the right breaks coming our way and get to the playoffs, experience like that will be invaluable."
Craig Wallace is just glad the first round is finally over.
"We need the break over the next fortnight to freshen up and get some players back," he said.
"But we really need to lift. In this situation it's too easy to go out the back door if we don't."
COFFS HARBOUR 20 (Will Morgan, Keeden Williams 2 tries; Shaun Hart, Nowan Williams goals) d SAWTELL 14 (Brendan Hope, Cheyne Butcher tries; Nathan Davies 3 goals)
Scrums: Coffs Harbour 11-8.
Best players:Bert Gray,Brad Jackson, Will Morgan (Coffs Harbour); Neal McCarthy, Brendan Hope, Kris Watson (Sawtell).
Reserve grade: Sawtell d Coffs Harbour 44-6.
Under 18: Sawtell 14-10.