Panthers tough nut to crack

By BRAD GREENSHIELDS

THERE'S no need to tell Woolgoolga captain-coach John Cross how tough a nut Sawtell can be to crack because he's already seen it for himself.

Despite winning all three of their clashes last year, Cross refuses to underestimate Sawtell particularly when his opposite number Craig Wallace is on the paddock barking the orders.

"I've got a lot of respect for Craig Wallace," he said.

"Last year when we beat them in the semi-final he was just coming back from a serious knee injury and he played the whole 80 minutes.

"We were leading by something like 30 points at half time and he could've been excused for having a rest but he played the entire game leading from the front."

As long as there's that sort of leadership at the Panthers, Cross will never take the two points for granted when he comes up against them.

Sawtell go into tomorrow's clash at Rex Hardaker Oval match hardened and looking forward to a challenging three weeks of football ahead of them.

Starting tomorrow the '2452 Crew' will take on Woolgoolga, Port Macquarie, rivals Coffs Harbour and then reigning premiers Macksville.

"Woolgoolga is going to be a big test for us," Wallace said.

"Not that the last two weeks haven't been, those sides came out and took it up to us but it's nothing like we will face in the next three."

In last year's minor semi final, Woolgoolga walked away comfortable 48-12 winners but you can guarantee that Wallace won't let Sawtell be on the end of a similar scoreline tomorrow.

"Last year was mentioned during the week but that's sort of old news," the coach said.

"They were just red hot on the day but we didn't aim up either. We're a completely different side this year as we've got about four new blokes."

Cross believes that a win tomorrow will be a bonus as he sees Sawtell as a measuring stick of the competition.

"It's not super crucial that we win this but it will let us know exactly where we're at."

n THE best footballers that the North Coast has to offer will be taking on the might of Newcastle in the first round of the AAMI Country Divisional Championships at Port Macquarie's Regional Sports Stadium this afternoon.

Newcastle are the giants of these championships having won 17 titles over the years, while North Coast is yet to savour victory.

Last week North Coast warmed up for the match with a 44-20 victory over Northern Division at Taree.

The halves pairing of Arthur Murray and Anthony Avery both carved holes in the Northern Division defence and will need to do so again today against the red-hot favourites.

n Group 2 teams and previews-Page 67.



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