Bathurst Panthers has one hand on back-to-back Group 10 premierships after ruthlessly dismantling another top three side to book the 2019 grand finals at Carrington Park.
After lapping Mudgee 40-18 in week one of the semi-finals, Panthers put the cleaners through minor premiers Orange Hawks in Saturday's major semi-final to come away with a 36-16 triumph.
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Panthers conceded the first try of the game - a relatively soft one through Orange Hawks rake Alex Prout just on five minutes - but from that point on never put a foot wrong.
The defending champions kicked out to an 18-6 lead at the break on the back of tries to Doug Hewitt, Nick Loader and Blake Lawson and then really drove home that advantage at the start of the second half.
Last year was probably a little bit easier; every week we were underdog and no one thought too much of us. But this year we're enjoying a bit of expectation.Panthers hooker Nick Loader
Willie Wright booted a 40-20 that led to Jack Siejka's try just after the break and then the mercurial No.6 really turned it on, running it on the last tackle to produce a stunning individual try to shoot Panthers out to a 30-6 lead after 51 minutes.
Four minutes later Hewitt then chimed in with lovely cross-field kick for 18-year-old winger Mackenzie Atkins, the rangy teenager leaping high above his Hawks opponent Jack Aumuller to score what would be Panthers' last try.
Wright nailed the goal from the eastern touchline, for good measure, and at 36-6 the damage was done.
Hawks crossed twice more through Aumuller and then Jared Brodrick, but they were only ever consolation as time wound down and Panthers secured their first major semi-final victory in over a decade.
The last time Bathurst Panthers hosted the Group 10 grand finals was in 2007, and that day the men in black secured back-to-back titles.
Hewitt's outfit is gunning for the same feat, and if they maintain the sort of form that's seen them go to another level this finals series there's no reason the 2019 Panthers won't emulate the feats of Dave Elvy's champion 2006-07 outfit come September 15 .
Panthers hooker Nick Loader said his side had a point to prove this finals series. Not to any other team, but to themselves.
And they've done that now, emphatically, on their way to booking a home grand final.
"We just wanted to prove to ourselves what we can do. We were getting through games, close games, and winning but we weren't putting sides away," Loader said.
"We didn't really play well at all throughout the year and we knew we had to work on that ... and it's clicking now."
He said the Panthers boys have relished the expectation any champion side carries.
"We have the belief," he said.
I think we probably thought it was going to be a walk in the park, getting those points so early.A dejected Willie Heta post game.
"Last year was probably a little bit easier; every week we were underdog and no one thought too much of us. But this year we're enjoying a bit of expectation."
The Hawks shed was full of dejected two blues at full-time and captain-coach Willie Heta said complacency crept in to his camp early in Saturday's grand final qualifier.
"I think we probably thought it was going to be a walk in the park, getting those points so early," Heta said.
"But they stuck to what works for them and that's the sort of side they are, they did a good job and we had no answers."
Heta added the week off after winning the minor premiership took the wind out of his side's sails leading into the biggest game of the season, but that won't be an issue in next weekend's preliminary final at Wade Park.
"There's motivation there. We don't want to come up short again," he said, adding Hawks played as poorly as Panthers did brilliantly.
"They'll go at you for 80 minutes and if you don't match it with them they'll put you away, and they've done that two weeks in a row.
"Hopefully having this under our belt will give us some momentum back."
- BATHURST PANTHERS 36 (Willie Wright, Blake Lawson, Doug Hewitt, Nick Loader, Mackenzie Atkins, Jack Siejka tries; Willie Wright 6 goals) def ORANGE HAWKS 16 (Alex Prout, Jared Brodrick, Jack Aumuller tries; Duncan Young 2 goals)
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