WHEN Bathurst Panthers missed out on their chance to make it three straight Group 10 premier league titles in 2020, due to the new threat of the COVID-19 virus, they took the time to psyche themselves back up and get themselves in a hungry mindset for the new season.
So for the Panthers to have that opportunity once again stripped away by the pandemic is bitterly tough news to take.
NSW Rugby League made the call on Tuesday to officially cancel any remaining community competitions for 2021, bringing to a close what had been a challenging but character building season for the Panthers.
Despite a host of injuries to some of the team's star performers - Blake Lawson, Jeremy Gordon and Nick Loader to name a few - the team showed the sort of class that had taken them to back-to-back crowns to fight through that and finish the regular season in second.
They were entering the finals series with close to a full strength side back together and captain-coach Doug Hewitt was on the cusp of becoming the club's outright most successful premier league coach.
Panthers premier league manager Danny Dwyer said the team had mentally built themselves back up into a great mindset after having the 2020 season fall by the wayside.
"The big motivation for us this year was to try and win that third straight title and the nucleus of that side was still there again this year to try and get the job done," he said.
"We've lost two years of football where we haven't finished and it's been a different world, and now you don't know between this year and the start of next season what's going to happen and whether they're just as keen to go again.
"That's the hardest thing, getting that mindset going after two years of incomplete footy.
"It's not an ideal situation but we don't live in an ideal world at the moment."
Dwyer said the club had a degree of hope that Group 10 would be able to make a call of their own on how the season could proceed, but he wasn't surprised to see the sport's governing body make the overarching decision.
"We were of the understanding that the Group would make a decision as soon as lockdowns had finished and we were hopeful that the season could continue in some shape or form," he said.
"We figured there would be enough time to play anything from a full semi-final series to a shortened version. I know the boys were very keen to play out the season but NSW Rugby League made that decision for everyone.
"We were understanding and accepting of that, but it panned out differently from what we were expecting, where Group 10 would make a decision based on the government regulation."
The decision to end the season threw into the mix new questions about what awards will still be handed out.
Zamparini confirmed that minor premiers will still be officially recognised, meaning Orange CYMS will take that honour in premier league.
CYMS will also be awarded the club champions honour but, as expected, those at the top of the table in all grades will not be recognised as 2021 premiers.
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