A hugely gutsy effort by Bathurst Panthers guided them to victory over Orange CYMS in Sunday’s Group 10 under 18s grand final.
Panthers overcame a two person deficit in the first half to lead 10-8 at the break after centre Finlay Grabham and Hunter Siejka spent time in the bin for separate offences.
Two late tries to Noah Griffiths and Mackenzie Atkins, his second for the day, stretched the minor premiers’ lead to 20-8 at the full-time hooter.
Panthers skipper second-rower Zac Hunt described the win as “unreal”.
“It’s unreal. Us older boys have been through a lot and lost a lot of games and we’ve been down. To top it off with an under 18s premiership with my mates... it’s unreal. You can’t top this,” Hunt said.
Panthers started strong and led 10-0 early courtesy of tries to Atkins and Brad Fearnley, but when Grabham and Siejka were sent to the bin CYMS closed the gap to 10-4 thanks to a terrific individual kick and chase try by Preston Simpson – the first of two tries for CYMS’ speedy centre.
The green and golds started the second-half with a bang when Simpson raced outside Panthers’ line to collect a grubber and plant it down next to the uprights, but Sam Warner’s conversion went wide.
With 10 to go CYMS’ Liam Kennedy went down with a serious leg injury resulting in an extended break as paramedics were called to attend to the lock-forward.
Play resumed after half-an-hour and Panthers raced in two late tries to clinch premiership glory with a 20-8 victory.
CYMS coach Mick Sullivan identified Kennedy’s injury in the second-half as a potential turning point in the match.
“Our boys showed plenty of character with Liam Kennedy going down, he was great all day, it stopped a bit of momentum we had. They came out from the break and put a couple of tries on and put the game to bed,” he said.
“There wasn’t much in it, we hit a goal kick or two and we’re in front with 10 to go. Full credit to Panthers they were the team to beat all year. We got them once but not on the day that counts.”
Hunt said his players were prepared for a bruising contest, and showed courage in the first half defending their line with two players in the bin.
“It was very tough. We knew it was going to be physical in that first 15 minutes. We knew if we got through it and completed we’d be right,” winning skipper Hunt said.
“We showed a lot of courage when we were down two men at one stage and defended our line for five sets. We talked all year that we wanted to be here and do anything we can to win, we did it. It’s the best feeling.”
Full-time celebrations were marred by CYMS’ fullback Jett Clarke and Panthers’ five-eighth Griffiths getting sent from the field for fighting.
Group 10 secretary Peter McDonald handed Hunt the premiership trophy and celebrations began.
Man of the match was awarded to Panthers’ forward Ty-Lee Simmonds.
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- BATHURST PANTHERS 20 (Mackenzie Atkins 2, Finlay Grabham, Noah Griffiths tries; Noah Griffiths two conversions) def ORANGE CYMS 8 (Preston Simpson 2 tries)