DEFENCE is something that Bathurst Panthers under 16s coach John Griffiths has focused on at training this season and on Saturday he was mighty glad about it.
It was defence that booked his Panthers a spot in the Group 10 Junior Rugby League grand final.
As the undefeated minor premiers, Bathurst Panthers were hot favourites to win their semi-final against St Pat's at Jack Arrow Oval and book a place in the decider.
But the Saints dominated possession which meant the Panthers had to draw on everything that they had been practising in defence to emerge 24-6 victors.
"There was a little bit of pressure there, they knew that they were undefeated but could be straight out the back door after one game," Griffiths said.
"We made a lot of errors, I think the percentage would have been 65-35, we spent long periods defending. I think we completed six-seven sets, that's about it.
"We'd get a little half break then we'd go wide and they'd try to pass it when they were tackled or they'd lose it in a play the ball getting up, knock it on at dummy half or kick it our on the full - just silly little things.
"But defence, that's been our game plan all year, defend and get to our kick. We were throwing silly passes and tried to go around them, but when we held the ball we scored."
It was Panthers lock Tom Lemmich who scored the opening try of the must-win match to make it 4-0 at quarter-time and while the Saints pressed hard for an equaliser, Griffiths' side held strong.
The margin increased to 10 points in the second quarter as Panthers five-eighth Ronan Hunt-Cameron crossed and team-mate Jackson Carter added the extras.
At that stage the Saints were still in the contest, but after the half-time break Panthers were finally able to string some sets together and as a result, they took control of the game.
"We actually held the ball in that third quarter and we got out to 20-0, we also got to give everyone a run because I have nine reserves."
Hooker Andrew Bonham, prop Tallis Tobin and second rower Logan Dufty all scored second half tries for Panthers while Pat's managed to get on the board thanks to Tyler Sharwood.
Griffiths praised the efforts of Tobin in leading Panthers' pack, while he also paid tribute to the performance of the Saints.
"Tallis Tobin was unbelievable - every run he made 10-20 metres and there were a couple of runs where he made 40 metres," the coach said. "As a front rower, I only brought him off for three minutes, so it was a huge effort.
"All credit to Pat's too, they were tough, they came out wanting to win.
"They were very physical, which is what you want going into a grand final. You don't want to go in there on the back of an easy game."
Panthers will meet Bloomfield in this Saturday's grand final after the Tigers posted a 28-24 win over Cowra.
"We've got to be way better for the grand final, we've got to be 40-50 percent better. We know we can tackle, we've just got to get our work with the ball right," Griffiths said.