WE'RE coming for Mudgee - while Bathurst Panthers under 11s coach Emma Duke and her players will have to wait until 2022 to try and slay the Dragons, it is something they are intent on doing.
This season marked the first time Duke's Panthers - a team she has guided since under 6s - were part of Group 10 Junior Rugby League's competitive ranks.
But their rivalry with Mudgee was forged long ago and before the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown forced this season to be abandoned, Panthers were looking forward to a grand final qualifier against the Dragons.
Not surprisingly, Duke is disappointed her side did not get to test themselves in that match and try to dish out some revenge for a 10-0 loss to Mudgee in round six.
But that only serves to make the coach and her players even hungrier to try and topple a rival side packed with talent next year.
"They'll be coming for Mudgee, that's for sure," Duke said.
"We've got a good rivalry with Mudgee and we're coming for them. That's the team we're gunning for in our comp, 100 percent, that's the team that everyone is going for.
"They are a very good strategic team which makes us step our game up a bit more as well, it's nice to have a team to have that sort of rivalry with."
Stepping up their game is something the Panthers did throughout their 2021 campaign, improving their skills under the guidance of Duke and assistant James Higgins.
They only lost two games during the regular season and in the first week of finals, posted a 10-6 win over Orange CYMS Green in the qualifier.
"It was very good this year, they've come a long way that's for sure," Duke said.
"We did have a few new faces, but we pretty much had the same group of 14 players who have come back for the last three years.
"They started getting plays together, myself and James, we coached them like we would coach 18-year-olds and they really did adapt to that quite well.
"They picked up quickly a lot of the drills this little team, they just live and breathe their footy."
While the coach would have loved to see what her side would have done had the remainder of the finals series gone ahead - she felt they were good enough to win the premiership - she was undoubtedly proud of them.
"As a coach you always know your team has the potential to do it, to only have those two loses throughout the season was something I think they needed because they are a confidence team," she said.
"It's a shame that the season is over, it's always bitter-sweet when you know it's so close."
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