After Orange CYMS and Orange Hawks were bounced out of last weekend’s Bathurst Panthers Knockout in their first encounters, a piece of magic from the host side’s new captain-coach Doug Hewitt inspired his men in black to a third consecutive title.
CYMS were outclassed and eliminated by Mudgee on Friday night while Hawks, in somewhat controversial circumstances, progressed straight to the semi-finals before being bounced out.
After a first-up bye the two blues were to play Mudgee on Saturday morning but the Dragons forfeited, also forfeiting their first division clash too, handing Hawks a path to the final four.
But, in their first game of the knockout, Willie Heta’s men were beaten 16-12 by Panthers, who then went on to score a thrilling 8-4 decider victory over the highly-touted Oberon Tigers.
With the scores locked at 4-4 and just minutes left on the clock, Hewitt demanded the ball at first receiver and promptly weaved his way over the score the match-winner and secure the $3,000 winner’s cheque for his club.
“I said at the start of the year that everyone had written us off. They had those big wigs named and Oberon was one of them, so for us to [beat the Tigers] … it makes this even better. It’s a great confidence boost,” Hewitt said.
“To be honest with the adrenaline I don’t remember [the try] too well, you just sort of see what’s in front of you and you do it.”
Though Hewitt’s try was critical in the win, he deflected praise – as all good leaders do.
He said was impressed by the younger members of the squad, while new recruit Blake Hewitt was busy at hooker, prop Brent Seager was typically strong and Jedd Betts did the hard yards at lock.
“It’s crazy how well we dug in in this hot weather and won three games, three tough games too. We copped a lot of injuries throughout the day, but the young blokes stepped up, they did an unreal job,” Hewitt enthused.
“We had a couple of under 18s playing and how they played – you’d think they were seasoned first graders, so hat’s off to all the boys.”
Panthers created the first chance of Saturday’s final by forcing a repeat set, but promptly let the line drop-out go into touch, handing the Tigers possession which they almost scored from, but Tyler Hughes was bundled into touch.
Oberon did open the scoring before the half-time break though, with Tui Oloapu charging 30 metres down the right flank to cross.
But the second half belonged to Panthers. After another repeat set, some slick hands put Findlay Grabham over with 12 minutes remaining before Hewitt took it upon himself to get the job done for the hosts.