Doug Hewitt and his troops have finally achieved what so many Panthers sides of recent years have promised to do, the Bathurst outfit winning Sunday’s Group 10 premier league preliminary final and earning a much-coveted decider berth.
The way they did so was somewhat awe-inspiring too.
Facing a gargantuan, motivated Orange Hawks side at their home of Wade Park, Panthers were carrying an already-busted Hewitt, lost their heart and soul in Brent Seager in the 11th minute and fell behind 16-4 behind not long after.
But they still got the job done, producing what Hewitt called labelled their “gutsiest effort in a long, long time” to cut the deficit to two by half-time, take the lead not long after and then run away with the clash in the dying stages.
The men in black ultimately prevailed 38-22, booking a date with minor premiers Cowra in next weekend’s grand final at Sid Kallas Oval.
“The boys have got used to doing that a bit this year, digging deep for each other and fighting, but that was definitely our gutsiest effort in a long, long time,” Hewitt, who played through a knee injury and was superb at half, said.
“Losing Seags early like that hurts, because he’s a real leader for us but the boys worked hard through it. I could sort of feel the tide turning a little bit towards the back end of the half, I’m just so pleased for all the guys.”
But now, Hewitt admitted, the challenge is getting back up for the big dance in a week’s time and making sure they haven’t run their race a week early.
“It’s not good enough for us to just be happy to have made the grand final,” he fired.
“We are really pleased that we’ve made it, don’t get me wrong, but we can’t be satisfied with just being there. All year we’ve wanted to be there and take the next step, we’re there, so now that next step is to win the premiership.”
He said there’ll be no questions about whether he’ll take the paddock or not either, as there was this week.
“I’ll be there, the knee’s fine,” he said after full-time, although Seager’s fitness will be confirmed or otherwise this week after he was knocked out and didn’t return.
“I think they’ll have a pretty big battle on their hands trying to stop him playing, but we’ll look at it this week.
“Obviously we’d love him to play but his health and well-being is our first priority.”
I took just three minutes for Hawks to open the scoring on Sunday, doing so through Talon Hodge on the back of a penalty.
Heta’s kick was waved away before Panthers drew level four minutes later through Kade Barrow, he scored on the left edge after a penalty as well.
But when Hawks pushed to a 16-4 lead thanks to converted tries to Saul Houma and Corey Brown the two blues had taken control on the scoreboard and actually looked quite likely to skip away with the clash.
Especially considering both those four-pointers came from Panthers’ errors as well, and Houma’s was when Seager was forced from the field.
Hawks’ big bopper when straight over his Bathurst counterpart, Seager finding himself in an awkward position and being knocked out as he was steamrolled.
The two blues continued looking more likely until Blake Seager busted through in the 28th minute, again on the left edge, and found Nick Loader looming in support.
Although Wright missed his attempt, five minutes later the men in black forced Hawks fullback Jackson Coote back into his own in-goal from five metres out and scored in the next set, through Blake Seager.
The score remained 16-12 in favour of Hawks at the break but after Panthers scored first in the new half, through Blake Hewitt, there was feeling in the air at Wade Park that the tide was turning, and quickly.
That feeling proved correct as Barrow scored his second after a penalty just three minutes later to give Panthers a 22-16 lead, although Glen Maxwell darted over from dummy-half not long after and Heta kicked it to draw level.
The two blues dropped it two tackles after the kick-off though and then gave away a penalty, which Wright duly converted from 30 out, and from there it was all Panthers.
Heta’s kick-off went dead on the full and Blake Seager scored his second as a result. Hawks then made an error on their own try line and Andrew Mendes swooped on the loose ball to score, the two conversions making it 36-22 with eight to go.
Corey Brown flew high to win the contest from the short kick-off and Eman Rodriguez found space two tackles later, but the last pass was called forward.
In the next two minutes Hawks conceded three more penalties – of seven they conceded in the second half – Hewitt nailing a goal from the last, securing Panthers’ 38-22 victory.
- BATHURST PANTHERS 38 (Kade Barrow 2, Blake Seager 2, Nick Loader, Andrew Mendes, Blake Hewitt tries; Hewitt 2, Willie Wright goals; Wright, Hewitt penalty goals) def ORANGE HAWKS 22 (Talon Hodge, Saul Houma, Glen Maxwell, Corey Brown tries; Willie Heta 3 goals)
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