Entree before main course
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
IF THIS match was a grand final preview then hold on to your hats when the main event hits town.
Orara Valley were the better team for most of the day but after 65 minutes, Macksville were still only a conversion kick away from leveling the scores.
Cameron Blair hit the right post after a Rod Jarrett try that would have left scores at 28-all with 15 minutes to play.
A Macksville knock on, a penalty to Orara two tackles later and suddenly Ben McCarthy scored the second of his three tries to wrest the momentum back in the Axemen's favour.
Orara's captain-coach Brad Hart knew it was game on but was confident his team's fitness would see them through the ensuing tense moments.
"I think our fitness was a lot better," he said.
"I said to the guys if just hang with them for 20 and hang with them for 20, then we'll finish over the top of them
"They (Macksville) are a side that comes back and if you give them a sniff, which we did when we lapsed and they came back at us.
"But full credit to the guys to dig deep in that last 15 which I said we'd finish over them."
Hart was cool and calm when the contest was over and his team were the victors but when Macksville hit the front close to half time, you could hear the spray the captain-coach was giving to his teammates from miles away.
The verbal blast must have worked a charm though as two tries in the three minutes before the bell restored not only the lead but the reputation of Matt Donovan as one of the premier footballers in the competition.
He scored a brilliant individual try that had the Macksville players watching hypnotised at his brilliance before offloading to Brett Davis for another.
"Mate he's in a league of his own out there," Hart said in praise of the gun centre.
"Just the way he played he had it covered all the time."
Macksville captain-coach Paul Davis had a running battle with referee Rick Purton throughout the contest but unlike many of the Sea Eagles' supporters he refused to lay any blame for the loss on the 8-3 penalty count.
"We were on the wrong end of the penalty count and always getting on the back foot as they were getting repeat sets," Davis said.
"When we did hold the ball for a set of six and got a back to back set we got a try but we didn't do it continually.
"In the end Orara Valley held the ball better than us and scored the tries when they needed to to put the nail in the coffin."
It wasn't necessarily a failure to complete sets though that hurt Macksville the most.
Too often, especially early, the Sea Eagles seemed hell-bent on putting the big hit or shoulder charge on their opponents in an effort to intimidate their way to the all important physical advantage.
All it managed to create though was a lot more space for Orara players to work in because the missed tackle count was climbing at an astronomical rate.
"We might have been a little bit too fired up as we weren't dominating the tackle by throwing them down and we were going in for the big shots," the Sea Eagles coach said.
"They're all right but it makes it harder for the blokes around you because they have to get back and adjust to go and tackle him covering your back and there's going to be an overlap somewhere if you continually doing someone else's work.
"It's going to tell in the end which it did."
Macksville had a lot of players missing from yesterday's team and the group looked like they had just been in a war.
It makes you wonder how they'll pull up for the Gimbisi catch up game on Wednesday night.
Davis has no concerns about the tough week ahead though.
"If you're going to have one of these weeks you'd rather play a team that haven't played in a month and then play a team that hasn't won a game yet."
ORARA VALLEY AXEMEN 46 (Brett Davis 3, Ben McCarthy 3, Brant O'Dea, Matt Donovan, Scott Lacey tries; Scott Lacey 5 goals) d MACKSVILLE SEA EAGLES (Garry Jarrett 2, Nev Donovan, Wes Kelly, Luke Ringstead, Rod Jarrett tries; Cameron Blair 4 goals).
Scrums: Macksville 5-3.
Penalties: Orara Valley 8-3.
Errors: Orara Valley 7, Macksville 7.
Best players: Orara Valley - Matt Donovan, Tristan Hamilton-Giggins, Ben McCarthy. Macksville - Chris Piper, Wes Kelly, Rod Jarrett.
Reserve grade: Orara Valley d Macksville 72-14.
Under 18s: Macksville d Orara Valley 52-12.