Woolgoolga advance but coach not entirely happy
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THE Seahorses may be bound for next week's Major Semi Final after defeating Sawtell 32-22 yesterday but captain-coach John Cross says his team needs to improve if they're going to take this year's title.
"We didn't play great today, that was a pretty sloppy game," he said.
"I don't think that will be good enough to beat Port as we didn't execute well.
"We had a chance to put them away and came up with some dropped balls and that gave Sawtell a second chance."
The semi-final pressure was obvious from the word go at Rex Hardaker Oval yesterday and the speed and intensity of the battle affected every player on the field at some stage or another.
Sawtell racked up 14 errors while Woolgoolga were only marginally better with 13 of their own.
Cross actually pulled a surprise move from the opening by starting himself at halfback while regular number seven Blake Seymour began the contest parked on the pine.
Cross explained that it was a move designed to give his team another option among the forwards.
The early injury to Clint Crockett could've brought the plan for forward supremacy undone but it was an unheralded Seahorse who came off the bench to produce a man of the match performance.
Jason Stanford took a lot of pressure of his more highly credentialled teammates by constantly putting his hand in the air to be the next man to hit the ball up and he did his fair share of tackling to top it off.
"To be honest I thought our forwards were great," Cross added.
"They matched us early but our blokes kept grinding away like they have for the last month or so.
"While Sawtell ripped in, we've got some classy players and some good forwards."
Some of that class came from young centre Ross Hunter who scored a hat-trick.
A natural centre, Hunter has played most of the season at fullback but the return of Brad Vines to the team has allowed the local product to return to the position where he's most dangerous.
Fact is the Seahorses probably should've won by more than the final margin of 10 points yesterday.
Sawtell's workrate in defence was phenomenal and it showed that even in defeat, this team is still a contender to make it to the grand final.
The Panthers will probably look at two refereeing decisions in the second half that proved costly.
Firstly, when second-rower Damian Irvine was sent to the sin bin, the scores were locked together at 16-all.
Within five minutes of Sawtell playing a man down, Woolgoolga had put two tries on the board to take a decisive 10 point lead.
Defending grandly, Sawtell finally had the ball at the correct end of the field as far as they were concerned 15 minutes later and Neal McCarthy crossed the line directly under the black dot.
Instead of Nathan Grace pointing at the spot to bring the Panthers to within a converted try of victory, a penalty was awarded to Woolgoolga because lock Mick Battye was involved in a minor skirmish 10 metres off the ball.
Craig Wallace is too shrewd a judge to offer those excuses to try and explain the loss. Instead he dwelled on the fact that his team completed only 56 per cent of their sets.
"There were too many mistakes mate," he said.
"In semi-final football you can't turn so much of the ball over to a team like Woopi, otherwise they're going to punish you.
"Our boys dug deep to their credit because the amount of ball they had in the second half they should've put 50 points on us but we dug deep and at the end of the day there was only 10 points in it."