Big Xavier Sullivan drives low in the tackle with the help from Rhys Walters and Luke Welch up top.
Big Xavier Sullivan drives low in the tackle with the help from Rhys Walters and Luke Welch up top. Debrah Novak

Sullivan winds back the clock in big Rebels win

RUGBY LEAGUE: While they might look starkly different to the team that clinched the Group 2 Premiership last season the South Grafton Rebels kicked off their 2016 campaign in the same vein as last year.

The Rebels forward pack were instrumental in laying the foundations for the 54-22 thrashing of the Sawtell Panthers.

Despite the hot and humid conditions the Rebels forwards led by a returning Xavier Sullivan were relentless in their defensive efforts before breaking the Panthers back with ball in hand.

Sullivan made a minimum 10 metres with every cart of the ball and turned back the clock with a barge over try in the second half.

For the 35-year-old prop his first hit out back in the Rebels jumper was all about pride in playing and not wanting to let his mates down.

"The last couple of years I have sat out," he said. "Especially sitting out last year with all their success that sort of hurt a bit.

"Knowing Ron since we grew up together, he showed me loyalty when I was coaching so it was the least I could do.

"I just didn't want to let anyone down out there on the field. You know I have got a lot to prove, I'm 35 and have a lot of critics in the crowd, and hopefully a few supporters.

"But I just did not want to let the boys down, they have been working so hard, so I had to give it all I got."

There was one man that was far from let down by the big forward with coach Ron Gordon praising the go forward Sullivan was able to achieve.

"It all came off the back of big Xavier, big dozer," he said. "I talked him up all pre-season, he dropped 30 kilograms and it showed today.

"His first rest came at 36 minutes into the game, for him a bloke that has been playing reserve grade the last couple of years, to come out in a first grade match and make 36 minutes in that heat, I was blown away.

"And I think the rest of the boys just lifted off of that."

Premiership-winning centre Hughie Stanley made the switch into the number six jersey and relished in the opportunity to get his hands on the ball more.

Stanley was instrumental in at least five of the Rebels tries and went on to score one of his own in the ten try feast.

But it was the work off the ball that the Rebels put in which counted the most on the day. Luke Welch and Rhys Walters got through a mountain of defensive work while Grant 'Stumpy' Stevens tackled his way through a solid 75 minutes.

South Grafton Rebels 54 (Duroux 2, Stevens 2, Stanley 2, McGrady, Brown, Sullivan, Pearson tries; Duroux 7 goals) def Sawtell Panthers 22 (Miller, Clarkson, Watkins, Wicks, tries; Miller 3 goals).



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