Watch out Port!
By GREG WHITE
AFTER 28 years of trying and numerous stumbles at the last hurdle, Sawtell have finally beaten their preliminary final hoodoo to make it into the Group 2 grand final.
Seven times in the past decade the Panthers have made it to the penultimate game of the season only to come crashing back to earth.
Yesterday was their eighth attempt and this time they made no mistake.
Nothing was left to chance in the 30-22 elimination of Woolgoolga at the Sports Reserve that booked the all-important boarding pass for Shark Park next Sunday.
Head Panther Craig Wallace looked stunned when told he'd created a slice of history.
Many before him had tried but he's become the first since the legendary brothers 'Blossom' and 'Precious' -Les and Noel Cleal ? to put the 2452 postcode centrestage in domestic rugby league.
"These blokes are all a bunch of champions," the big prop forward beamed when reality hit him.
"They keep plugging away and don't know how to give up."
Both sides came out full of fire with the collision of forwards in the opening moments almost creating an earthquake.
But in what was to become the first of many mistakes by the home side, enough room was left for centre Nathan Davies to squeeze through a narrow gap and after six minutes the Panthers were on the scoreboard.
Within 12 minutes, the visitors were twice more across the line and already the writing was on the wall for the Seahorses.
"Dropped ball and not making tackles," was how captain coach John Cross explained his teams downfall.
"The first half did it ? we came back later, but there was too much ground to make up."
It took Woopi 30 minutes to register their first points but when Davies lodged the ball in-goal a second time just before the break, any chance of hometown victory was nothing more than illusion.
Once Kevin Gordon had crossed following the resumption to give Sawtell extra breathing space Woolgoolga became entangled in a 'you score ? I score' scenario that was never going to give them the momentum they needed.
"Nothing makes me prouder than to coach these blokes," Wallace said directly to his players.
"Crossy and his lads did themselves great credit to keep hanging in but this was our moment."
Woolgoolga's defeat signalled the curtain call of two grand careers.
Cross and Lee Harvey have announced the end has finally come.
"It's been a great run but it's over," an emotional Harvey said.
One of the happiest (and most popular) men on the ground was John 'Tank' Mackay, hooker for the 1978 Clayton Cup-winning premier side and a man who's watched and experienced the good and bad times in Pantherville.
"I can't believe it," Mackay said.
"It's finally happened.
Kevin Gordon's second try, 11 minutes into the second half that took the score to 26-6 and put the dark reality of Woolgoolga's plight into focus.
"The bloody drought has finally broken." Alan Hope, Sawtell.
"Great season as it turned out but not quite able to get there today." Eamon Mulholland, Woolgoolga.