WINNING START: Sawtell Panthers hooker Tyke Kemp looks for a ball runner against the Bellingen Valley Dorrigo Magpies on Sunday afternoon at Rex Hardaker Oval.
WINNING START: Sawtell Panthers hooker Tyke Kemp looks for a ball runner against the Bellingen Valley Dorrigo Magpies on Sunday afternoon at Rex Hardaker Oval. Sam Flanagan

Sawtell win ugly in first round

RUGBY LEAGUE: The Sawtell Panthers have begun the 2019 Tooheys New Group 2 season with a win after edging out the Bellingen Valley Dorrigo Magpies at Rex Hardaker Oval, but the victory wasn't pretty.

Both sides were guilty of poor ball control in the opening exchanges of the match, which isn't surprising considering it was the first game of the year.

The only problem for the Panthers was it continued for the entirety of the 80 minutes.

"I was a bit shocked at our control and our completion rate, it was only about 30 per cent, which is really disappointing after the pre-season we've had. So to produce that wasn't great,” Panthers coach Garry Stevenson said.

"We completed seven out of 17 sets in the first half but two of them were tries, so really just five from 17. Our expectations are a lot higher than that.”

Stevenson said the young Panthers squad had learnt a lot of lessons in the 24-18 win.

"We had an honest discussion after the game and the boys put their hands up,” he said.

"They'll get better because you can't get any worse than that. You don't win competitions in April so we've just got to keep improving.

"But they showed character to stay in the game and come away with the win.”

Earlier in the day the Panthers reserve grade side showed greater control with the Steeden to produce a statement 48-0 win against the Magpies.

Stevenson said he was incredibly impressed by their efforts.

"There's a few players in that reserve grade side that are first grade calibre and are knocking on the door to be selected.”

"We'll have a talk about it this week but maybe one or two of those guys will come in and play against the Comets this weekend.”

In other round one games the Coffs Harbour Comets began their premiership defence by sounding a warning to the competition, proving far too strong in the grand final rematch against the Macksville Sea Eagles.

The Comets ran out 42-8 winners at Allan Gillett Oval.

The Grafton Ghosts were also big opening round winners, proving a cut above the Orara Valley Axemen in a 46-6 win at Frank McGuren Field.