Panthers start season with a growl
By GREG WHITE
HAD Sawtell not beaten Orara Valley at Rex Hardaker Oval yesterday, it would have been the first tragedy of the new Group 2 season.
The Panthers were far superior and did eventually win 27-16.
They worked hard for it, sweated it out and thoroughly deserved to win.
But with the Axemen one point adrift and snapping at their heels for a long period in the second stanza, it was a close run thing.
"Those young blokes worked magic and deserved their success," beaming head coach Craig Wallace remarked.
"They set up the win in the first half with great ball control.
"We knew Orara would come back but they kept their heads and kicked up a notch when the situation called for it."
With tries traded in the opening duels, Sawtell hit top gear with touchdowns to Damian Irvine and Mick Loudon before Loudon added a touch of genius with a field goal minutes from the break, giving a crucial 17-6 advantage.
Orara skipper Matt Donovan admittted the Axemen had been horribly tardy in the opening exchanges.
"I expected it as these blokes are pretty much all new and still learning about each other," he said.
"In the break I told them to stay cool, clean up the ball control and chase the Sawtell mistakes."
Classy Bert Gray went from villain to hero as he sparked the customary Orara revival.
Fresh from a stint in the sin bin, Gray cracked the line before slipping an around the corner pass that had Paul Donovan haring for the corner.
Another cut out ball had Steve Kirby trybound and Orara knocking on Sawtell's door at 17-16.
For 15 agonising minutes, Sawtell withstood everything their rivals could throw at them.
Then, the dam broke.
Mitch Thomson crossed with five minutes remaining on the clock and Dale Churchland wrapped up the scoring with another at the end.
Sawtell had toughed it out for their just desserts.
Like all prop forwards, Wallace doesn't smile much at the football but on this occasion, his eyes were gleaming.
"A bunch of kids acted like men," he said.
"In fact, the new bloke from Bellingen (Daniel Tempest), I'd only met once before the match.
"We've got three weeks to prepare for Nambucca and we'll talk a lot about what they've learned from the experience."
Opposing captain coach Donovan remained upbeat despite the loss.
"It's okay," he said.
"When we put it together things are fine.
"It'll just take a couple of starts, that's all."
SAWTELL PANTHERS 27 (Adam Loudon, Damian Irvine, Mick Loudon, Mitch Thomson, Dale Churchland tries; Nathan Davies 3 goals, Mick Loudon field goal) def ORARA VALLEY AXEMEN 16 (Alister Moran, Paul Donovan, Steve Kirby tries; John Roberts, Shaun Hart goals.)
Scrums: Orara Valley 13-10 Penalties: Sawtell 9-5
Errors: Orara Valley 15, Sawtell 10
Best Players: Brad Wykes, Dale Churchland, Adam Loudon (Sawtell) - Tristan Hamilton - Giggins, Dave Simons, Bert Gray (Orara Valley).