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.
“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 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.”
Kade Barrow and Blake Seager both scored doubles for Panthers while Nick Loader, Andrew Mendes and Blake Hewitt crossed for tries too.
Four of those came in the second half as did Willie Wright’s conversion and both of Blake Hewitt’s, Panthers outscoring Hawks 26-6 in the last 40 minutes of the clash.
Both kickers nailed a penalty goal each as well, Hewitt’s the final nail in Hawks’ coffin.
He slotted it after the full-time whistle, which sparked raucous celebrations from his teammates and the massive contingent of Panthers fans on hand.