Wild brawl mars rugby league final

By JENI FAULKNER

'DISGUSTING' is how one official has described the crowd's behaviour at what could have been one of Sawtell's finest days on Sunday.

An estimated 3000 people turned out at Rex Hardaker Oval to watch the home team, Sawtell Panthers, take on Macksville Sea Eagles in the VB Group 2 Rugby League preliminary final. While almost $10,000 was raised through gatetakings on the day, the day was marred by a wild spectator brawl.

At least three people required treatment at Coffs Harbour Health Campus. The casualty list included: A Coffs Harbour man, 19, had his front teeth knocked out, a deep cut to the back of his head and cuts and bruising to his face and left eye. A Coffs Harbour man, 25, suffered a severe laceration to the back of his head which required stitches. A Queensland woman, 22, suffered a badly broken nose and bruising, while a Sawtell woman, 25, had a cut to her lip. A Sawtell man, 21, was cut on the back of his head, while a girl suffered cuts to her face.

"I saw everything from beginning to end and I was disgusted that it got so out of hand," one spectator said. "The fight was brewing about 20 minutes before full time. Then at the end of the game I saw a 44-gallon drum being thrown, along with rocks and bottles, and there was about 10 people throwing punches, different outbreaks." "It could have really got out of hand, there were children and mums screaming and running off. "I have not been to the football in 10 years and I doubt I will ever go again."

The president of VB Group 2 Rugby League, Greg Mayhew, said what should have been a beautiful day and great game was marred by the brawl, resulting in 'everyone being disgusted' and an inquiry now being held into the fight. "There are alcohol regulations all throughout country NSW and glass bottles are not allowed," he said.

"But there are 'yobbos' who enjoy beating the regulations, I even saw one guy walking around the game with a glass bottle. You can't blame securi- ty for this because people de- liberately go against them and hide it."

Cheyne Butcher plays Under 18s football and often spends his weekend watching the game, but he had never experi- enced one like this. "It was basically an all-in brawl and I think there was more females then males in- volved," Cheyne said. "I even saw lots of young children, about 10 years old, throwing sticks and bottles, even the children were abusive and people were being rude and screaming and swearing."

The president of the Macks- ville Sea Eagles, Bill Richard- son, said he has disappointed at how the afternoon ended, with the president of the Saw- tell Panthers side, Kerry Hales, sharing his view.

Kerry Hales, who has been involved with football for 37 years, said he had never ex- perienced anything like this. "We have done a lot of work to build the image of rugby league because of devas- tating things that have hap- pened (in the past) and we have been trying to boost its image," Mr Hales said.

"If those responsible are associated with rugby league and the Sawtell Panthers they will never represent, play or be part of the club again. Our endeavour will be to have them barred from any sporting event in the area."

Mr Hales said there should be a hefty fine for people with bottles because when they are thrown they are missiles. The police investigation is continuing and charges are yet to be laid



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