BATHURST Panthers are the 2013 Group 10 first division premiers after a hard fought 26-24 win against St Pat's at Wade Park on Sunday.
Panthers spent the last 10 minutes of the match defending grimly to try and avoid defeat, despite having led 16-0 after 20 minutes.
After a slow start, Pat's got themselves in front, 18-16 early in the second half, before Panthers regained their composure and scored two of the last three tries to hold on for the win.
Panthers captain-coach Brian Moss was elated with the victory and paid tribute to his team's desperate defence in the closing stages.
“This is fantastic. It's what you work all year for,” he said.
“Today we got off to a flier. We thought how good is this but they came back at us and we had to knuckle down. At the end we defended our arses off.
“Our talk was really good out there. I was never confident at any stage and when they had so many sets on our line, I thought here we go, this could be the nail in our coffin.”
It took Panthers just four minutes to hit the lead, with winger Matt Bohane scoring out wide. Pat's ill discipline saw them conceding too many penalties.
One of those led to Jarrod Gaffa scoring out wide to extend their lead to 10-0.
Panthers gained plenty of confidence from their good start and they hammered Pat's from the kick-off, knocking the ball loose and giving themselves another chance in good position.
An angled run from Luke Cox off a Steve Lane pass made it a 16-0 advantage after just 18 minutes.
Pat's finally woke from their slumber and got themselves into the game with tries to Justin Slattery and Dylan Battersby before half-time for a 16-10 deficit. Battersby was able to score an easy try after Panthers spilled the ball in goal.
Alex Grant got Pat's to within two with a try after the break and they took the lead with another in-goal mistake from Panthers. This time the fullback and winger allowed the ball to bounce, with Rhys Frame getting their first.
Joey Coughlan missed his third goal from four attempts but Pat's were in front 18-16.
A mistake from the kick-off put Panthers back on the attack and allowed Moss to score.
Lane set up Katon Crawford for Panthers' fifth try and then kicked the extras to give them an eight point lead with 13 to go.
Veteran halfback Chris Osborne set up a thrilling finish with an intercept try which he converted to get back within two.
St Pat's put plenty of pressure on but couldn't find that match winning play.
Lane and hooker Aaron Bell were in outstanding form for Panthers, while Osborne and Benjamin John were the stand outs for Pat's.
The win maintains a strong history of results for Panthers in the first division competition and Moss said he was proud to be in charge.
“I never thought it would happen to me but they are the best bunch of players. I'd like to thank the club for giving me the opportunity to coach. It wasn't something I was looking to do but they encouraged me,” Moss said.
“My manager Greg Storrier has been here every week doing things behind the scenes to help me out.”
BATHURST PANTHERS 26 (Jarrod Gaffa, Mathew Bohane, Katon Crawford, Brian Moss, Luke Cox tries; Steve Lane 2 goals) defeated ST PAT'S 24 (Justin Slattery, Dylan Battersby, Rhys Frame, Alex Grant, Chris Osborne tries; Joey Coughlan, Chris Osborne goals).