Panthers keep dream alive
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
SAWTELL have not only lived to fight another day but they now find themselves only win away from the grand final. Showing better ball control than they have at any time in the previous month, the Panthers advanced to next week's Preliminary Final at Woolgoolga courtesy of a 34-20 victory over Macleay Valley on Saturday.
Fact was though, Sawtell should've won by more than the 14 point final margin and with five minutes to go, there was no way that Macleay Valley should've had a sniff after a converted Nathan Davis try brought the scores to 22-20.
"It wasn't pretty and they gave it to us for the full 80 minutes," Panthers captain-coach Craig Wallace said after the match.
"We got a little bit scrappy and we've got a bit of work to do during the week."
Under the guidance of Mick Loudon who steered the Panthers around the paddock beautifully, Sawtell managed to get on top of their gutsy opponents every time they managed to get a roll-on with their forwards constantly putting the Macleay defence on the back foot.
Wallace believed all week that his team was the fitter of the two and knew that being able to charge at a retreating Macleay Valley line was the best chance of securing victory.
"It's what we worked on all week and that's the way that we had to play them," he said.
"When we did play them that way we made good yards but there were times when we did get a bit scrappy and tried to go wide which isn't our game and we came undone.
"When we got back to our game and our style, it changed the game."
Aside from being on the back foot and under intense pressure at times, the biggest issue facing Macleay Valley during the encounter was that they had terrible results in all the key areas.
Dropped ball led to a massive 16 errors and the Mustangs completed only 14 sets for the day.
To compound their problems, referee Rick Purton was quick to halt any efforts that the Macleay team made to slow down the play the ball area to stop Sawtell's roll-on by penalising the Mustangs 15 times.
Captain-coach Kurt Hancock openly admitted that his team were trying to slow Sawtell down at every opportunity but he felt that his players were never sure where they stood at any stage of the game.
"I never bag referees but today there was that much inconsistency in the ruck it wasn't funny," Hancock said.
"If they really want to get this game going well in Group 2 they've got to really clean that up because that's where all the altercations come from and the half little scuffles and blues.
"If they can clean that up you're going to have a really good competition here but as far as I saw here today it spoiled the game.
"Both sides got away with it but it just spoils the game."
The error count must have been frustrating for Hancock who spent just as much time on the bench as he did on the field thanks to an injury but he said that the occasional dropped ball was always going to be acceptable through the match.
"We said today we were going to chance our hand and that's what we did," the coach explained.
"In saying that, they had enough ball to probably beat us by more but that's the way our side plays, they chance their hand and I take my hat off to them."
Relieved at getting a semi-final victory under the team's belt and keeping the Sawtell dream of a long awaited premiership alive, Wallace warned that to get to the biggest game of the year his side can't afford to have any lapses in concentration like the one that occurred on Saturday.
"We probably got a little bit lackadaisical when we were at 22-10 and we let them score two quick ones," Wallace said.
"We can't afford to do that next week otherwise we're going to get punished for it."