Bathurst Panthers’ rookie coach Doug Hewitt says his side has thrived off the underdog tag throughout the 2018 Group 10 finals series and that won’t change heading into the biggest game of the season on Sunday.
The men in black have stunned many by knocking off Oberon, defending premiers Orange CYMS and then one of the best sides all year in Orange Hawks to make the grand final, where they’ll play minor premiers Cowra.
And Hewitt, in his first year at the helm of his junior club after being suddenly thrust into the coaching job following the retirement of Todd Barrow, believes his young side will travel to Sid Kallas Oval with little to no inhibitions as the club looks to snap a premiership drought now in its 11th season.
“This year we’ve gone (into games) just playing for the bloke next to you,” Hewitt said.
“You’re always going up against teams with a label of being bigger and better … but our blokes love that … there is no expectation and it is just working for us.
VIDEO: Check out the 2018 Group 10 captains’ call:
“We keep showing up for each other and that’s how it’s pretty much been throughout the final series.
“We just thought we only had to make the final five and we’d give it a bit of a crack.
“All of the sudden-death games, we just kept showing up.”
Last week’s spirited 38-22 dismantling of Willie Heta’s Hawks is arguably Panthers’ best win since the club claimed its last title, a history-making 24-4 win over Workies at Carrington Park in 2007.
Hewitt was on one leg as he battled a meniscus tear in his knee while Brent Seager was knocked out in just the 11th minute and didn’t play any further part in the clash.
Willie Wright starred while the rest of the club’s young guns rose to the challenge.
It’s a trait that has Hewitt smiling ear-to-ear, while the return of Seager will give Panthers’ added starch in the engine room for the decider.
“(Brent) messaged me the next day and said it’s the best he’s felt, it was like getting a week off,” Hewitt said of his star front-rower.
We keep showing up for each other and that’s how it’s pretty much been throughout the final series.Panthers captain-coach Doug Hewitt.
“His body is probably as fresh as it has been all year. He was at training last night and he’s feeling good and ready to go.”
Which, in theory, should worry Cowra.
But the 2018 minor premiers have gotten this far by focusing on the Magpies’ nest, and that won’t change ahead of Sunday’s home grand final – the club’s first since 2014.
In fact, the swoopers haven’t held aloft the Western Challenge Cup since 1995.
Either way, Sunday’s champion outfit will snap a pretty sizable premiership drought.
“It’s been good .. we’re relaxed,” Rainbow, the newly crowned Group 10 player of the year, said.
A state the club was far from in 10 months ago.
No committee, no coach, just about no players, Cowra’s 2018 looked more likely to be non-existant than finish with, at the very least, an appearance in a home grand final.
Rainbow, though, knew the black and whites were on to something special “when Sutto turned up”.
“I thought, I’ve heard good things about him,” Rainbow said of coach Steve Sutton.
“Twice before he’s coached the club and both times I was with other clubs, so this is third time lucky,” he smiled.
We need to control their big players bashing forward, if we do we should be half a chance of getting over them.Cowra skipper Josh Rainbow.
“He’s very good, very smart, a good bloke too.”
Rainbow said restricting the power of the Panthers pack was key to Cowra’s title bid, but with the likes of Warren Williams, Ron Lawrence and Blake Tidswell leading the way, the swoopers weren’t shy of their own muscle.
“We need to control their big players bashing forward, if we do we should be half a chance of getting over them,” he said.
“Our forwards, they’ve all set the platform for us all year.”
The main game kicks off at Sid Kallas Oval at 3pm on Sunday.