BATHURST Panthers led Saturday’s Group 10 premier league minor semi-final at Wade Park for just 30 seconds.
Unfortunately for Orange CYMS, they were the final 30 seconds of the game, with Panthers’ five-eighth Willie Wright’s last-gasp field goal propelling his side to a thrilling 21-20 win, in the process bringing the curtain down on both the defending premiers’ season and storied player-coach Mick Sullivan’s time on the Central West’s football fields.
Wright’s defining strike, registered from 15 metres out and straight in front of the sticks, came just one minute after he had leveled the game with a penalty from almost exactly the same spot.
His twin efforts punctuated a classic encounter, a true war of attrition, which saw both benches all but emptied of reserves courtesy of a glut of injuries, including one to Panthers captain-coach Doug Hewitt within the the game’s first 10 minutes, and another – a shocking broken leg – to CYMS centre Joe Lasagavibau, which forced a 30-minute break while an ambulance was dispatched.
VIDEO: Willie Wright’s match-winning field goal ...
Hewitt’s absence placed the responsibility of steering the Bathurst outfit around on Wright’s shoulders, an opportunity the pivot clearly relished, especially in the frantic final seconds when he called for, and slotted, the match-winner.
“I knew straight away,” Wright said of his third-tackle field goal attempt.
“I just knew that the time was right. CYMS weren’t set because we got the ball back from Seager’s one-on-one strip, so two tackles down I thought it was time.”
“I called for it and aimed up, so I’m just over the moon.”
Wright’s heroics capped a stirring effort from the men in black, who found themselves on the wrong side of a 12-point deficit on two occasions.
The belief in the boys was that all we had to do was keep completing, keep competing, keep showing up, and we’d get there.Bathurst Panthers captain-coach Doug Hewitt
CYMS hooker Ryan Griffin opened the scoring in the fourth minute, his four-pointer matched soon after by Lasagavibau, who raced 50 metres to cross out wide from the next set.
With Brock McGarity lacing both conversion attempts – the second from the right touchline – a long and painful day loomed for the visitors.
But in a sign of things to come, Panthers rallied, with winger Kade Barrow scoring the first of his brace on 10 minutes.
Having already lost Hewitt, the Bathurst men were then forced to temporarily farewell his replacement after referee Nathan Blanchard flashed the yellow card at Trent Hotham, who had little cause for complaint when pinged for holding down Lachlan Munro.
Despite ceding a one-man advantage, Panthers held firm, aided by the half-hour break created by Lasagavibau’s dreadful injury, incurred when he was grassed just centimetres short of notching his second try.
Shortly after the CYMS’ flyer’s departure from the ground – his thumbs up from the ambulance-bound stretcher received a rousing cheer from all corners – green and gold winger Travis Adelerhof capped a long-range movement from his side to score, restoring their 12-point lead in the process.
That margin didn’t last long, thanks to a barging effort from Panthers back-rower Jack Siejka, whose try adjacent to the sticks was converted by Wright for a 16-10 half-time scoreline.
Panthers started the better in the second period, and six minutes after the resumption made it 16-14 through a try to winger Andrew Mendes.
VIDEO: Joe Duffy’s second-half try …
The result of the ensuing arm-wrestle seemed like it would pinpoint a winner, and when CYMS forward Joe Duffy stampeded his way past a couple of would-be tacklers and planted the ball, the hosts had kicked clear by 20-14 and appeared destined to take the spoils.
But after their five-eighth Luke Petrie was penalised while in possession – “a big momentum shift”, according to Sullivan – the match immediately swung Panthers’ way, with Barrow scoring his second out wide in the following set.
Wright missed the difficult conversion attempt which would have tied the game with 15 minutes remaining, but more than made up for it later on.
VIDEO: Willie Wright’s penalty kick with two minutes left …
After the full-time siren Hewitt, favouring an injured right knee which had previously undergone a total reconstruction, paid tribute to his courageous team.
“We had every reason to give in. A couple of 50-50 calls went against us and we were down on troops with me out, concussions and other niggles,” the mentor said.
“But the blokes that were out there, it’s all credit to them. The heart that they showed was just ridiculous.”
“The belief in the boys was that all we had to do was keep completing, keep competing, keep showing up, and we’d get there.”
We all probably let ourselves down with those one per cent plays, and that’s all it takes, especially in semi-finals.Orange CYMS player-coach Mick Sullivan
Sullivan, playing his last game in CYMS colours after nine seasons at the club’s helm, lamented the “little things” which proved costly as his side was eliminated from the competition’s semi-finals in straight sets.
“We let a lot of opportunities slip,” he said.
“In the end to go out in straight sets was very disappointing.”
“We all probably let ourselves down with those one per cent plays, and that’s all it takes, especially in semi-finals.”
For the victors, Jack Siejka was a tower of strength, ably supported by his back-row partner Blake Hewitt and hooker Nick Loader, while fullback Munro and Griffin – playing with a suspected broken hand – were outstanding in a beaten side.
To make a bad day worse for CYMS, their first division side was also eliminated – at the hands of Panthers.
- BATHURST PANTHERS 21 (Kade Barrow 2, Jack Siejka, Andrew Mendes tries, Willie Wright conversion, Wright penalty goal, Wright field goal) def ORANGE CYMS 20 (Ryan Griffin, Joe Lasagavibau, Travis Adelerhof, Joe Duffy tries, Brock McGarity 2 goals)
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