By GREG WHITE
A CRITICAL error by Port Macquarie in the dying stages gave Sawtell the lift they needed to score a thrilling 27-20 win at Rex Hardaker Oval yesterday.
With scores 20 points apiece and the sands rapidly running through the hourglass, Kris Watson shaped for the field goal attempt.
It missed, but rather than allow the ball to roll harmlessly over the dead ball line, the Sharks inexplicably gave it assistance on it's way.
Big, big mistake.
From the resultant drop out, the Panthers worked play back to the front of the posts and on the fifth tackle, Brendan Hope's drop goal was dead on target.
"That was certainly the turning point," a smiling Craig Wallace said.
The sidelined Panther coach was full of praise for the way his charges dug in during a tight, physical contest.
"We started strong and finished stronger once the field goal broke the deadlock.
"Our form has been hot and cold over the past few weeks but I think we've finally stepped up the pace and turned the corner."
There was not an ordinary performer amongst the Panther players.
Yet favourite son Kris Watson saved something special for the entertainment of the faithful with a flawless display.
Slotting effortlessly into the hooker role, Watson drove Port crazy with his darts from dummy half, selective passing to spark the attack and cover defence that chopped down every Sharks raider entering his line of vision.
That's not to say Port didn't almost steal the show.
Despite going into the game without Anthony Fenton's firepower, their forwards matched Sawtell in most departments while halfback Jeremy Lang was always difficult to handle.
The Sharks managed to find themselves in strife with referee John Cole who gave Chad McCarron and Kristian Murphy time in the sin bin.
Tony Pascoe, the Port coach also crossed swords with officialdom.
He was ordered off the sideline and behind the fence following a claim by touch judge Rod Hart that Pascoe was voicing abuse at the referee.
Pascoe refused a request for an interview at the conclusion of the game.
SAWTELL PANTHERS 27 (Dennis Gordon 2, Mick Battye, Adam Loudon tries; Nathan Davies 5 goals, Brendan Hope field goal) d PORT MACQUARIE SHARKS 20 (Josh Mann, Anthony Shipway, Matt Shipway, Joel Asher tries; Luke Sprague 2 goals)
Scrums: Port Macquarie 8-7.
Penalties: Sawtell 8-6.
Errors: Port Macquarie 8, Sawtell 6.
Best Players: Sawtell - Kris Watson, Nathan Davies, Mick Battye; Port Macquarie - Jeremy Lang, Matt Shipway, Dale Carr.
Reserves: Sawtell d Port Macquarie 42-10.
Under 18s: Port Macquarie d Sawtell 34-16.