Saints storm back
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
LAST week's loss by Sawtell has appeared to be merely a speed hump in their charge to the premiership after their emphatic victory against Port Macquarie in Saturday's Preliminary Final.
The comfortable 55 point margin was evidence enough of the Saints' dominance on the day but the final scoreline could've been a whole lot uglier for Port had Sawtell managed to kick straight.
Jumping out to a 22 point lead at the first break, Sawtell frittered away chances to shut the gate during the second and third quarters by constantly missing gettable chances.
The Saints kicked a valuable goal just before the three-quarter time siren but in the 49 minutes before that, the Saints kicked 11 behinds from 12 scoring shots.
While excited about advancing to next week's grand final, Sawtell coach Russ Matthews admitted to being concerned about his team's accuracy.
"We should have buried Port but obviously our kicking let us down," the victorious coach said.
"We practice our goalkicking every week but it was probably just a bit of pressure, a bit of nerves still.
"For a lot of our boys this is only their second final and this week they stepped up a bit better after Norths showed us last week what finals football is about."
It was a lesson well learned by the Saints as their tackling intensity in the first 15 minutes on Saturday was a huge improvement on the week before.
Port Macquarie's much vaunted fleet of midfield runners were barely given an inch to move in, forcing the Magpies to kick under pressure.
Cleaning up any mess like a vacuum cleaner from the poor disposals that Sawtell's pressure created was the Saints' Mark Couzens.
Playing 30 to 40 metres behind the play, anytime Port looked like moving the ball forward, Couzens would thwart any attacks and send the Saints goalwards.
Early on, Sawtell's captain Jai Hardy was also collecting plenty of the ball then he became engaged in the most entertaining duel of the day.
Port's Shannon Skreja was given a tagging role on Hardy and his constant close checking and niggling raised the ire of Saint's supporters.
As much as Sawtell would be loathe to admit it, Skreja did negate Hardy's effectiveness until late in the game when it was he, not the Saints players, who finally cracked and lost their discipline.
Then again, the way Sawtell steamrolled their opponents in the last quarter, Skreja wasn't the only Magpie left frustrated at the loss.
For Port, it is the end of another campign that was so near and yet so far away.
Since winning the title in 2000, Port have lost three grand finals and finished third twice to earn them the unenviable tag of perennial bridesmaids.
Scott Payne, the Magpies captain-coach was bitterly disappointed with his team's season ending but managed to find a silver lining to the day.
"It's a bit tough losing today but I suppose it's not as bad as losing a grand final," he said.
"That hurts a bit more but it's now just back to the drawing board again."
Payne admitted though that if it wasn't for defender Dean Nankervill putting in an absolute blinder in defence then the fat lady would've started singing a lot earlier than when she actually did.
"He loves to run and for a fullback he plays well in the forward line," he joked about Nankervill's ability to be all over the ground rather than being anchored to his opponent.
Sawtell can now look forward to going to the big dance this weekend against North Coffs.
And the coach has warned the Kangaroos that his team will be an even better outfit this week after taking a few selection risks leading up to Saturday's do or die Port clash.
"I went for the guys who were a bit fitter this week rather than the blokes who were carrying a slight injury to give them that extra week off which I was hoping we'd have if we won, which we have," Matthews said.
"Most of them will step back up now because they've got that extra week off and we'll be back to nearly full strength again."
The coach has promised an easy week on the track for his team as they prepare to win their first title since 1997 now that he's confident the Sawtell campaign is back on track.
"We've stepped back up now and they realise what they've got to do to win the game," he said.
"It's basically now working on our opponents and make sure we know who our match ups are going to be this time.
"We just need to make sure that the boys are fit and raring to go in the mind."
SAWTELL 4.5 5.9 6.16 12.24 (96) d PORT MACQUARIE 1.1 3.4 4.5 6.5 (41)
Goals: Saw - D.Meyers (4), L.Matthews (2), H.Schmidt (2), J.Hardy, M.Couzens, M.Bibby, D.Carey. Port - D.Geddes (2), C.Martens, C.Roberts, J.Stephens, D.Nankervill.
Best: Saw - M.Couzens, M.Innes, D.James, J.Edwards, H.Schmidt, D.Meyers. Port - D.Nankervill (B.O.G), D.Butterfield, S.Skreja, S.Fitzgerald, J.Schmidt.
Umpires: K.Berrigan, D.Ralph, G.Massaad.
NEXT WEEK'S GRAND FINALS
Seniors: North Coffs v Sawtell/Toormina 2:45pm.
Reserves: Port Macquarie v Coffs Swans 12:45pm
Under 18s: Nambucca Valley v Grafton 10:45am.