IT'S been the occasion that Bathurst Panthers have owned for the past six years but Saturday night's defeat to St Pat's in the ANZAC Memorial derby at Carrington Park will give the team the chance to reflect and improve early in the inaugural Peter McDonald Premiership season.
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The 32-30 defeat saw the Panthers rally from a 16-4 deficit to a 26-16 advantage thanks to some fluid attacking football on either side of half-time, but they weren't able to maintain the momentum against a Saints side who produced a resurgence of their own late into the game.
It was far from a poor performance from the Panthers, who could have prevailed if not for a couple of lapses in defence close to their try line and less adventurous ball movement when they regained the advantage.
With a young halves combination still developing their connection and several players still getting accustomed to playing in different positions there's still lots to like about the outlook for the Panthers this season.
Panthers skipper Jake Betts said it was a great contest to be involved in.
"It was a great game of footy and good to be a part of. That was a real local derby, and full credit to Pat's. They took their opportunities," he said.
"We probably should have iced that game when we were up by 10 but we let them back into it. They were good tonight and they deserve it, and we'll take a lot out of it."
When Panthers scored twice inside the first six minutes of the second half they had the chance to really apply the pressure on the Saints and run away with the game.
A crucial moment came in the 50th minute when the St Pat's forwards produced one of their strongest sets of the match, dragging themselves out of their own half and just 30 metres away from the Panthers try line at the end of the set.
They then sent the ball to the right wing and found a try through Lee McClintock, a try that would signal the start of a match-winning lift in tempo from Pat's.
Betts said that came about from his side shifting away from what had been working for them throughout their uninterrupted 22-point run.
"We probably got a little too excited there and started going a bit sideways and away from what our brand of footy is," he said.
"That brand of footy is the same as what it's been for the past five years, and that's to roll it through the middle before having a crack. You saw when we put the points on that that's what we were doing.
"To Pat's credit they came back strong and they deserved the win, as tough as that is to swallow at the moment. We'll learn a lot from it and we'll be better next week."
Panthers play host to Mudgee Dragons next round.
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