THEY came within one point of the minor premiership, but if you ask Bathurst Panthers under 13s league tag coach Rachel Hodges the most satisfying thing about season 2021 it wasn't the results.
It was the passion her side brought each Sunday when they lined up for games in the Group 10 Junior Rugby League competition.
Though the extended COVID-19 lockdown of many areas in the Central West meant the competition was abandoned late last week and Hodges did not get to see just how far her side could go, she was still proud of what they had achieved.
Only Orange CYMS Green, who finished one point ahead of them in the minor premiership, managed to beat Panthers during the regular season.
Though Panthers then fell to St Pat's Blue in the first week of finals, Hodges was confident they would have bounced back had the season continued. They were drawn to play Mudgee - a side they beat 22-16 earlier in the year.
"They definitely had a good chance at it, when they were on they were on," Hodges said. "They did really, really well this year.
"They only lost once against CYMS and then they lost the first semi against Pat's, but they had that second chance and they were excited for it too.
"They just loved it, they fed off it, it was really good to watch them play. That was the best thing about it, that they just loved it."
Seeing her squad come together into a cohesive unit took some work for Hodges given the numbers and mix of experience.
But come together they did. They headed into the finals series on the back of five consecutive wins.
"It was tough to start with because we had so many numbers, we had a really big side, so it was about trying to get all the personalities to click," Hodges said.
"A few of them were new, but there were girls that played 13s last year still in this side and then some 11s who had come up, so there was a mix.
"But they are a great bunch of girls, I was so proud of them. I was never really hard on them, I let them set the pace and they just did it, they did it because they loved it."
It's a love which Hodges hopes will draw those young Panthers back to play again in 2022.
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