Sawtell?s big Hope
ITS taken a while at Sawtell but according to Brendan Hope, the pieces of the Panther's puzzle are just starting to fall into place at the right time.
A player who can turn the game in the twinkling of an eye with a moment of brilliance, Hope has a touch of Macksville in his game, an air of unpredictability which can often change a game.
"All the guys are now back on the paddock and we can only get better from here," Sawtell's five-eighth said.
"We can keep improving now that a couple of blokes who are back are getting fitter."
Last week the Panthers overcame arch-rival Coffs Harbour to sneak into third place and grab the valuable double chance.
Hope doesn't want to entertain the thought though that Sawtell might need a second chance in case of defeat.
"It was very important to get into third spot but we're not relying on that," he explained.
"Hopefully we can just keep on winning."
Tomorrow's major preliminary semi-final at Macksville offers Hope and his teammates an opportunity to start getting a couple of monkeys off their backs.
The Panthers lost twice to Macksville during last year's finals series and have managed only a draw against the reigning premiers in their two 2005 meetings.
While it seems that the Sea Eagles might have the wood on Sawtell, Hope thinks that a good look at the stats shows that his team aren't merely cannon fodder for Macksville to run over.
"They've all been close games and there's not much between us," he continued.
"We're looking forward to it.
"Hopefully we can get in around the ruck and have some quick play the balls to get them on the back foot and hopefully starve them of the ball."
Hope says that his team isn't using the loss to Macksville in last year's final as an incentive to win tomorrow's clash.
"I think we've got motivation enough to keep winning when you consider that we've finished third in six of the past nine years," the 24 year-old added.
"We're not really worried about who's in front of us.
"It would be very sweet to beat them though."
If the Panthers are to overcome Macksville tomorrow and progress to next week's major semi against Orara Valley, Hope's half combination with Kris Watson will be all important.
The pair have built up a terrific understanding over the past five years and Hope wouldn't want to go into battle with anyone else.
"It makes a huge difference having him there because he's the main player in the team," Hope praised.
"I wouldn't want to be out there without him, it certainly makes our job easier when he's there."