Sawtell?s Damien Irvine makes his way to the tryline during his man of the match performance against Coffs Harbour yesterday.
Sawtell?s Damien Irvine makes his way to the tryline during his man of the match performance against Coffs Harbour yesterday.

Panthers crush Coffs

By BRAD GREENSHIELDS

THE fierce rivalry of days gone by between Coffs Harbour and Sawtell was played down in both camps all week but in hindsight, Comets' coach Scott Mieni might have been better served to talk it up.

The Comets put in a performance yesterday that was one of their worst in recent memory.

Playing one out football with not even a hint of support runners, Coffs Harbour struggled so much with any go forward that one could've been forgiven for thinking that the goalposts at Rex Hardaker Oval had been moved to the sideline.

Mieni was exasperated at game's end as his search for an answer to the malaise that came across his team throughout the contest proved fruitless.

Yet somehow he could still still manage to give a smile and a laugh.

"I thought if we win a couple of games I'll let the hair grow but it looks like the razor's definitely coming out this week," he joked.

"The drawing board is there, I'm just going to have to buy some more crayons I think."

A lot of new crayons will be needed at training this week as only Gavin Galvin, Brenden Pellegrino and Daniel Harding looked like creating anything for the team or at least moving the ball in the direction of where the goalposts actually were.

The rest of the team have all come out with some serious question marks over their heads about their ability to dig in and want to change the flow of the game when momentum goes against them.

"We just weren't a side that wanted to take that bull by horns and put the effort in," Mieni added.

"We knew we would come here and be in for a dog fight again and we were looking good for a while and then we just wandered off somewhere else, I think we go to another ground somewhere."

From the very start the Comets were on the back foot.

A knock on by forward Matt Burrows from the kickoff gave Sawtell a golden early opportunity with a scrum only 10 metres out and the Panthers crossed for a try without a single tackle being laid by either side.

To denigrate Coffs Harbour's performance though is to not give enough credit to Sawtell's defence.

The tackling of Brad Wykes, Luke Ninness and Mick Battye forced Coffs into trying to find space around the fringes but clever selection by Craig Wallace put an end to any of those dreams.

Adam Loudon had been moved into the centres while second rower Daniel Tempest made the switch to the pivot which meant the defence out wide was now just as strong as the big men up front.

As a veteran full back, Damien Irvine received every plaudit possible in nearly 10 years of first grade football but the horror injury run that Sawtell endured last year has unearthed Irvine as star second-rower.

Time and time again yesterday, Irvine took the ball forward with speed and purpose and created many half breaks as well as scoring a great try using his pace to race through a gap created by a dummy runner.

Panthers captain-coach Craig Wallace may have been forced into moving Irvine but he's in no hurry to have him return to his custodial duties now that he's got a full squad to choose from.

"He's just a consistent player, it's not very often you see 'Damo' have a bad game and he just keeps rolling the sleeves up and going forward," he said in admiration.

"He loves being in the forwards now, he just loves whacking it up and muscling up and it's to hard to move him now with Steve Sansom playing so well at the back."

Since their extended Easter break due to the bye, Sawtell have won four of their five matches and are purring along like a V8 supercar while other teams like Woolgoolga and Port get all the headlines.

Coffs Harbour would love to be in that position. Based on yesterday's form they're currently travelling like a broken down Kombi with an unroadworthy sticker on the windscreen.



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