Panthers treading warily

AT last the much-vaunted Sawtell outfit is about to make its first 2011 appearance.

The Panthers head for ‘the graveyard’ tomorrow to visit a Bellingen side still stinging from an unexpected first round loss to Nambucca Heads, and co-coach Rohan

Loudon expects a hot and hearty welcome – especially with a handful of ex-Magpies among the raiding party.

“Pity about the rain as it’s going to make it difficult for our big men and we could do with about 22 interchanges instead of 12,” he quipped.

“Word is Bello came back to earth last week and we reckon they’ll be harder to beat than usual, so we’ve prepared for this as if they are red hot favourites.”

Home team boss Ryan O’Connor said he’ll “know by Monday morning” if lessons were learned from the drubbing in the season opener.

“My blokes were filthy on themselves more than anything and the whole preparation, including the attitude at training sessions, has been a whole lot better,” he said.

One who tipped last week’s loss in advance was Coffs coach Warren Gilkinson who said the Bellingen side that rolled his troops in the pre-season was far too upbeat – and O’Connor agreed totally.

“Gilko’s right on the mark. When we beat the Comets in the Dorrigo trial the boys had an attitude like it was winning the first game of the year, rather than still being a practise for the real thing,” he said.

“We went to Coronation Park too confident and Nambucca brought us back to earth with a thud.

“Training was average before the game but it’s picked up now, and they trained the house down for this on a wet Thursday night.”

Adding spice to an already tasty match-up will be the return of former players Danny Russell and Brad Hart to Bellingen Park with the club guaranteeing a vocal (and good-natured) welcome “home”.

Meanwhile, Woolgoolga coach Greg Shuttleworth is using the embarrassment of last week’s surprise drubbing by Macleay to focus his troops on the importance of repelling a challenge from the visiting Roosters.

“The one good aspect is that we are a tight-knit group and determined to rectify that display,” he promised.

“Supporters need to stick solid with us as the results will come.”

In return, Nambucca supremo Garren Stig said Woopi will have their hands full with his rapidly improving side and has added match-turning utility Tyrone Ussher-Kinnear to this week’s backline.

“It was a gutsy effort to go a man down for 70 minutes and still win, and the side will be much more polished this week,” he said.

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