Bittersweet victory for Panthers
SAWTELL will be without influential pivot Troy Robinson for the rest of the Group 2 finals series following a serious knee injury in the final minute of its 52-12 semi final win against Bellinger Valley Dorrigo at Rex Hardaker Oval.
It is believed Robinson's injury will force him out for the rest of the season forcing the Panthers to reshuffle the halves ahead of its biggest game of the season.
The Injury has over shadowed what was a sensational team performance from the home side to nullify a talented Bellingen outfit for 80 minutes of football.
"I think that will be it for Troy (Robinson) this season," Sawtell co captain coach Eddie Harrison said.
"The word is he has snapped his patella which will all but rule him out for quite a while.
"It is really disappointing because he was really hitting some form and has been a big part of the side.
"Zac O'Brien is a talented young player and will be up to the task of filling in over the coming weeks."
Both sides battled with handling errors early but it was the magpies who conceded first when Sawtell halfback Danny Russell showed great determination to beat three defenders before crossing the try line out wide.
Russell's try opened the floodgates for the home side who at times looked a class above its opposition.
Five first half tries saw the Panthers take a comprehensive 26-0 lead into the break.
Despite a passionate half time plea from coach Brandon Costin, Bellingen struggled to get the handling errors under control to gift Sawtell chance after chance.
The home side claimed another easy four pointer not long into the second half when Luke Beaumont was unable to diffuse a towering bomb allowing Daniel Quinn to score out on the eastern side of the ground.
A try to Costin 50 minutes in gave the visitors feint hopes of a comeback but when John Fogarty broke away for a long range try only moments later the result was essentially wrapped up.
A final bright spot for the Magpies was the sight of former Brisbane Broncos star Stuart Kelly winding back the clock to his halcyon days racing 60 meters and dummying the fullback to score.
Sawtell managed to cross the line another three times before the final whistle to send a message to its future finals opponents.
While it was a tough loss for Costin's side, the coach had plenty of kind words for his opposition.
"It was the best I had seen Sawtell play this season, they were direct and made it tough for us," Costin said.
"Semi finals footy is a step above and I think having three forty year olds running around wasn't a great idea.
"It has been a difficult season for the club so to make it this far goes to show how well we have done and that we should be proud of our achievements."
Sawtell's Harrison hopes his sides improved urgency would continue into the next week of the finals.
"Our line speed in defence today was really good and it created opportunities for us," he said.
"We spoke at training about really making a game of it today and I think the score reflects that.
"Next week will be a completely new challenge and whoever we play it is sure to be a really tough match."
SAWTELL PANTHERS 52 (J Fogarty 3 D Russell N Davies B Hart Z O'Brien T Robinson D Quinn W Jarrett tries D Russell 5 T Robinson goals) bt BELLINGER VALLEY-DORRIGO MAGPIES 12 (B Costin S Kelly tries C Sinclair B Costin goals)
Penalties: Sawtell 6-4
Errors: Bellingen 13 Sawtell 8
Scrums: Sawtell 7-4
Referee: Nathan Grace
At Rex Hardaker Oval, Sawtell.
Reserve Grade: Macksville Sea Eagles bt Port Macquarie Sharks 34-20
Under 18's: Coffs Harbour Comets bt Port Macquarie Sharks 46-10