ENDING a 10-game local derby losing streak with their first win over Bathurst Panthers since 2015 - it was little wonder St Pat's coach Zac Merritt said Saturday's victory felt like it came in a grand final.
As the Saints held on to beat Panthers 16-14 in their Group 10 match at Carrington Park, the players embraced and the Saints supporters in the crowd erupted into cheers and applause.
It had been a long time since the Saints faithful had witnessed their side win a premier league clash against their fierce rivals - they'd been waiting since a 34-26 victory on July 5, 2015.
"That felt like a grand final out there, there was a real buzz, you could feel the crowd was into it, both teams were into it, the intensity was unbelievable, it was a real local derby feel," Merritt enthused.
"It was a real pleasure to be part of that, it was great we got the cookies today. Both teams really battled it out today, it was an unreal game."
Pat's opened scoring in spectacular fashion with just under 10 minutes gone, Tye Siakisoni going aerial and planting the ball as he dived before being bundled into touch by Panthers' cover defence.
That athletic finish came after he received a brilliant flick pass from his centre Lee McClintock.
Five minutes later the Saints were in again, five-eighth Mitch Squires scooping up the ball after a Panthers knock-on then running 50 metres to score. The conversion made it 10-0.
The defensive effort from the Saints that followed highlighted just how much Merritt's men have improved since conceding 46 points against CYMS in round four.
Twice they held out Panthers when the hosts had repeat sets in their territory, the defence scrambling in numbers to deny prop Brent Seager as he got within inches of the line.
Finally after a 10-minute period of attack, Panthers cracked St Pat's thanks to star centre Keelan Bresac.
Panthers drew level four out from the break when Jake Betts won the race to ground a Nick Loader grubber, but a successful Tyler Colley penalty attempt on the stroke of half-time put Pat's back ahead at 12-10.
Joey Coughlan crossed in the left corner nine minutes after play resumed to increase the Saints' buffer to six. It was a buffer they somehow clung on to.
Panthers tried hard to get back on level terms - Jake Betts knocked on trying to reach out and ground the ball between the sticks, Malik Blenman and Jed Betts were held up over the line, and while Charlie Hutchings managed to go over in the left corner, he was ruled to have stepped into touch.
With 3:22 left on the clock Panthers five-eighth Claude Gordon, who had threatened in attack for much of the contest, spun out of a tackle to score for his side.
That made it 16-14, but Dylan Miles was unable to slot the conversion which would have locked it up.
"Panthers, they're not a championship winning squad for no reason, so we knew they were going to come back into it, we had to weather the storm," Merritt said.
"We had a massive pre-season so there was a little bit of hang on at the end, but we knew we were fit enough because we'd put the work in.
"Our defence, it's something we have been building on, against CYMS at Mudgee it was probably our worst defensive performance so after that we spoke about working hard as a unit. The last couple of weeks we have played well as a unit, it's great to see the boys ripping in.
"Every team knows we're there, we're not a team that hopes for the best, we're a team that turns up and works hard as unit. I think that just shows we are really starting to come together."
ST PAT'S 16 (Tye Siaskisoni, Joey Coughlan, Mitch Squires tries; Tyler Colley 2 goals) defeated BATHURST PANTHERS 14 (Keelan Bresac, Claude Gordon, Jake Betts tries; Dylan Miles goal)
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