REBELS MAULED: South Grafton bow out of finals
Rugby league: A fit and confident Sawtell Panthers outfit has dismantled the South Grafton Rebels first grade team's attempts to progress in the Group 2 finals.
The Panthers put 50 points on a disjointed and injury-ridden Rebels outfit, which was able to score 22 points but found its defence lacking.
It was a point injured skipper Luke Welch noted after the game.
"It was the combinations that we missed,” Welch said. "The blokes that have been there all season weren't there.”
Second-rower Welch would have been one of those forward plugging up the Rebels' middle, until he was forced to pull out with a knee injury during the week.
"It was one of the hardest things to sit there and watch and not be able to get out there and help your mates,” he said.
"I could see what was happening, but there was nothing I could do about it.”
Despite the scoreline, the Rebels dominated the first quarter of the game.
On the back of a series of penalties, they scored first when stand-in captain Hughie Stanley crashed over as Sawtell cracked under the pressure.
But the Rebels were not able to add further points and when the Panther received back to back penalties hit back quickly with two tries minutes apart to surge to the lead.
Ryan Pemberton crashed over from close range and centre Chris Watkins slotted the conversion.
Then virtually from the kick-off, sloppy marker defence allowed the Panthers five-eighth to make a long run upfield.
His inside ball to second- rower Asalema Usamanu gave him a clear run to touch down under the posts.
For the rest of the half it was floodgates open, as the Rebels ruck opened up and the outside backs feasted on the results.
The match went from bad to worse for the Rebels when fullback Alistair Faulkner was sin-binned for a high shot.
There was a debate whether his swinging arm that felled a Sawtell attacker should have resulted in a penalty try.
Surprisingly the Panthers took the easy two points and it appeared the decision might have given the Rebels a reprieve.
They regained possession and pressed the Panthers' line, enabling prop Jeff Skeen to crash over from a few metres out.
Normal service resumed soon after when Sawtell winger Brendan Downton scored the first of his two tries as the Panters exploited their extra-man advantage.
And in the shadows of half time, his wing partner Kalani Morris sped over in the corner to open up a 30-12 advantage at the break.
The Rebels began the second half like the first.
Two minutes into the half Stanley had the crowd on their feet as he surged within a metre of the line.
The defenders stopped him but a short ball to Austin Cooper resulted in a try which Grant Brown converted.
A poor kick into the in-goal from Stanley gave the Panthers a seven-tackle restart, which they used to surge the length of the field.
Sawtell winger Downton appeared to be held by Nick Mcgrady, but he wrestled free and scored in the corner.
The Rebels hit back minutes later when centre Orel Monaghan got his hands free in a tackle and his pass to winger Tim Rigg gave him a run into the corner to make it 30-22.
But from that point the Rebels hit a brick wall and the Panthers piled on another 20 points to make the scoreline embarrassing.
To make matters worse the Rebels fullback Faulkner was sent off for a late high tackle when he felled a Sawtell attacker at the end of a long run that resulted in Panthers second-rower Jordan Cavanagh Hayward scoring near the post.
Panthers coach Garry Stevenson was quietly pleased with his team's performance.
"It wasn't scoring 50 points, but the fact we stuck solid to our game plan for most of the game,” he said.
He liked a lot of what he saw on Saturday from the team across the field.
"The forwards did a great job,” he said. "They dominated up the middle.
"The centres Chris Watkins and Todd Johnson combined well and our halves guided us around the field.”
Welch said while the result was disappointing, the injury toll in the club had made it difficult to prepare for the game.
"We had some plans to cope with some of the injuries, then we had some more injuries,” he said.
"That's footy. The clubs that get to the season with their players in the best shape are the ones who go in with it.”