RUGBY LEAGUE: The South Grafton Rebels held off a late game charge from the Sawtell Panthers to win their minor semi-final 48-28.
With their finals hopes still alive, the reigning premiers will play the either the Grafton Ghosts or the Coffs Harbour Comets next week for a grand final berth.
There were nine different try scorers for the home side, who enjoyed a beautiful afternoon at McKittrick Park during their 20 point win.
It was a perfect start for the Sawtell Panthers who found touch from the first kick-off to put the Rebels on the back foot early, and it wasn't long before they drew first blood with rampaging front rower Luke Serevi hitting a hole to barge over the line.
Not long after the Rebels hit back with their first points courtesy of a slicing run by winger Kieron Johnson-Heron. With a successful conversion from halfback Kayan Davis the scores were levelled.
The Rebels and Panthers went tit-for-tat with tries in the first half, and it was fullback Lachlan Miller who sparked the Panthers' next try, cutting across the field to find numbers out wide before Robbie Brilley scored out wide.
It didn't take long for the Rebels to reply through Grant Brown, who barged across the line at close range to level the scores again at 12 all after 24 minutes.
Five minutes later it was Miller again for Sawtell who took advantage of some weak defence in the middle of the field, spinning through a hole to score. The successful conversion took the score to 18-12.
A moment of Davis brilliance a few minutes later saw the halfback charge down a kick and regather to score a solo try, and after converting the scores were level again.
The Rebels gained the ascendency as the half-time break drew close, with an unstoppable Jeff Skeen carrying Sawtell defenders on his back to no avail as he slammed to the ball down to give the Rebels the lead. Another Davis conversion took the score to 24-18.
After going down to the Coffs Harbour Comets last weekend 46-26, the Rebels needed to tighten their defence in the middle of the park, which they did with hooker Rhys Walters and Luke Welch working tirelessly in tandem to shut down the Sawtell attack.
With the Sawtell side lacking fresh reserves, the Rebels took full advantage in the second half to press home the advantage, scoring first points through a genuine team effort that saw fullback Kieren Stewart plant the ball over the line.
Errors and penalties began to creep into the Sawtell team, and tries to brothers Lewis and Austin Cooper half-way through the second half, then to Nick McGrady put the game beyond doubt.
Sawtell attempted a late game comeback with tries to Brad Sinclair and a solo effort from Miller, but a try in the corner to Rebels winger Anthony Skinner saw the South Grafton side win 48-28.