Panthers end Roosters unbeaten run
SUDDENLY the Group 2 premiership race has opened wide with Nambucca Heads crashing to their first defeat for 2012 at Rex Hardaker Oval this afternoon.
Defending champions Sawtell put intermittent showers and the bitterly cold winds aside and came from behind to win 34-24 and were going away at the finish.
While it may have been Nambucca's worst second half performance of the season, it probably wasn't the Panthers' overall best outing of the year.
Arguably that came in round one when they put the cleaners through Macksville in a near-perfect display before temporarily going off the boil.
But this gutsy mix of raw-boned rookies and seasoned veterans rose to the occasion and are finally playing with real verve.
Co-captain-coach Eddie Harrison wasn't gloating over the fine achievement of knocking over an unbeaten team but the joy was all over his face.
"I had faith that if we all turned up mentally and put in a good effort, we'd be competitive," he said.
"We certainly showed that and enthusiasm was the key.
"The boys played up-tempo and while Nambucca had a few big guns out - Chris Carr and Gonzo (Garry Jarrett) for starters - and were under strength, I knew the longer the game went the more momentum we'd build.
"Looking back over the records it shows that when Sawtell play good against Nambucca, we always come home strong at the end."
For the first 40 minutes, Nambucca were at their cold, clinical best with few mistakes and plenty of patience.
Sawtell stuck to their tail but there was always a feeling if the Roosters floored the accelerator and the home side had a brain explosion, then the unbeaten streak would continue.
Chief architect of the Roosters' 18-6 half time lead was five-eighth Cameron Blair who showed enormous skill, strength and vision to dominate the field of play.
But something happened in the break and Blair returned to make some shocking errors of kicking judgement, along with ending up in the sin bin.
At that point, coach Garren Stig who normally watches from way out in the bleachers made his way back to the bench, always a sure sign of his concern that things are moving in the wrong direction.
"We had the game set up at half time and came out with the breeze at our backs and blew it through discipline," he said.
"They say you need a loss along the way and maybe we do need to wake up.
"We're better than most sides and I reckon probably better all round than Sawtell but you can't show it when you play dumb and lose self-discipline."
Chris Cook went over to start the comeback and soon after Blair was sent to the bin by referee Nathan Grace, Warren Jarrett scored the first two tries of his eventual treble.
The middle one was a screamer, started by Troy Robinson who bullocked through the centre and picked up Nathan Davies on his right hand side.
Davies drew two defenders and timed the sweetest high floater to Jarrett in open space and suddenly, the upset was on with the Panthers finally in front.
The Roosters lifted and no more so that veteran centre Tristan Hamilton-Giggins who pulled off five straight solo tackles in one set of six.
But Jarrett's third crossing and a late penalty to Danny Russell ended an amazing winter's day.
"The more we kept in the grind and kept completing our sets, the more confident I was," Harrison said.
"In the loss to Bellingen, the problems weren't structural ... rather they were attitudinal.
"The biggest challenge Damo (co-coach Damian Irvine) and I have had in our first year has been getting blokes up for games.
"Every time we've had a tough one like Nambucca or Woolgoolga or whatever, the heads are on and we're up for it.
"Other times we can be complacent and cocky and being a young side, have to stabilise and develop that consistency week in, week out."
SAWTELL PANTHERS 34 (W Jarrett 3 E Harrison B Keeping C Cook tries D Russell 5 goals) bt NAMBUCCA HEADS ROOSTERS 24 (A Budd 2 Z Sheppard C Blair J McEwen tries M Ronan 2 goals)
Scrums: Nambucca Heads 10-6
Penalties: Sawtell 14-5
Errors: Nambucca Heads 9, Sawtell 8
At Rex Hardaker Oval, Toormina
Referee: Nathan Grace
Reserve grade: Nambucca Heads forfeited to Sawtell
Under 18s: Nambucca Heads bt Sawtell 24-10