By GREG WHITE
A VETERAN half and a rookie fullback were the twin rays of sunshine that helped Sawtell to an uninspiring 30-26 win over arch-rivals Coffs Harbour at Advocate Park in the Carlton Mid Group 2 season opener.
Jason McGrady ? the player who starred in the Axemen's premiership-winning backline in 1997 and who beat a brush with cancer two years back ? is possibly the most senior first-grader in the competion but his effort in the number seven jumper yesterday had players half his age grinding their teeth with envy.
Especially his runaway try in the 62nd minute when he plucked an intercept from thin air close to the Panthers line and steamed away with only Nathan Davies in support.
Davies frantically tried to position himself to receive a clean pass but opposing winger Karl Younger kept getting frustratingly in the way.
Eventually, McGrady stumbled across the line for a touchdown that provided one of the few exciting moments in a contest which promised so much but was really, so bland.
And the Panther rookie who brushed shoulders with the big time?
It was Damon McDonald cutting down tearaway Paul Wallace who, if he'd scored, could easily have turned the balance of power back in the Comets' direction.
"We had a fairly ordinary preparation coming into this game and it was the first time we'd all played together as a team," head Panther Craig Wallace said.
"The thing is everybody dug deep which was very pleasing.
"We hung in till the end when the game might have been snatched back the other way."
Sawtell led by the skin of their teeth before Coffs momentarily hit the front for the first time 10 minutes from the end.
Had McGrady not scored his amazing try and McDonald not stopped the one Wallace seemed certain to score, the Panthers would have been in big, big trouble ? particularly with Daniel Tempest having difficulty adding the extras.
Davies sealed victory in the dying seconds when he seized a speculative backhand pass from Wallace and dived in to the left of the uprights.
As to which was the better side and who deserved the two points more, that depends on your club loyalty.
"Being flat in the first 10 minutes killed us," Comets captain-coach Aqron Dyett groaned.
"The boys are still getting to know each other but we'll get it right soon."
Wallace, laconic as usual, is just focused on the next outing.
"Same as last year," he said, "we'll take it as it comes."