Panthers power past Woopi to be one win from Group 2 decider
AFTER a catastrophic start, Sawtell came back to eliminate Woolgoolga from the Group 2 premiership race with an attractive 36-28 minor semi final win at the Sports Reserve.
The Panthers knocked-on from the opening kick-off and were left stunned when Clark Webb scored for the Seahorses four tackles after winning the mandatory scrum.
However, that setback caused the visitors to throw the on-switch and they were to cross for the next two tries within minutes.
Tit-for-tat try scoring followed and for the third week in a row, Woolgoolga came from behind to go to the break with scores level.
But whereas in the previous two starts they were smashed in the second stanza, the contest blossomed into one of the best of the year.
Bit by bit the Panthers crept ahead and while the home side got to within four points of the lead with eight minutes remaining, second-rower Al McGrath's second try in the shadows of full-time was enough to put a beatific smile on the dial of chief Panther, Brandon Costin.
Asked if he was more pleased his troops had to fight for victory rather than run away with the game, the veteran five-eighth had a ready answer.
"If I was just the coach, that would be true but because I'm also on the field busting my backside ... I always want it to be a big lead at half time," he laughed.
"Seriously, we have really had to pull something extra out today and the boys have all answered the call.
"It was a terrible blow to lose young Ty Stevenson just before the game which meant a lot more time on the field for the senior players but nobody eased up and we got the job done.
"But I'm still looking for some cool place to sit down for a long rest."
Costin has a habit of playing down the part he plays but again, his vision during a game and ability to anticipate where play should head to cause the most problems for the opponent, are unmatched.
Whether sending runners down the blind to upset lazy defenders or a quick switch across field - the cut-out pass to unmarked winger Zach Johnston when Woopi was sweating all over centre Chris Carr was a case in point.
Woolgoolga had their own catastrophic moment.
Vili Jnr Ieru was unmarked in Sawtell's in-goal but paid the terrible price the piper demands when you attempt to put the ball down one-handed instead of with two.
To be fair, it was the only real clanger in a fine performance.
Captain-coach Steven Spencer was philosophical about the season ending so abruptly.
"We played really well and no complaints," he said.
"Sawtell just had an edge and made very few mistakes and deserved to win.
"In the past 11 weeks, we haven't been able to go two games with the same line-up and despite that, we finished pretty high up.
"Shame to have it come to an end."
Sawtell progress to the preliminary final where they take on the losing side from the major semi final.
SAWTELL PANTHERS 36 (Chris Carr 2, Al McGrath 2, Zach Johnston, Eddie Harrison, Brandon Costin tries; Lachie Miller 4 goals) def WOOLGOOLGA SEAHORSES 28 (Clark Webb 2, Brad Collinson, Michael Aubusson, Joe Ravueta, Buddy Hart tries; Clark Webb, Buddy Hart goals)
Scrums: Woolgoolga 7-6
Penalties: Sawtell 9-8
Errors: Woolgoolga 11, Sawtell 9
Referee: Garth Burley
At Woolgoolga Sports Reserve, Woolgoolga
Reserve grade: Sawtell d Macksville 32-18
Under 18s: South Grafton d Woolgoolga 40-16