DON'T underestimate the Mudgee Dragons - while eight spots on the Western under 18s ladder separate them that's the warning that Bathurst Panthers under 18s coach Mick Carter is drumming into his players.
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On paper Saturday's clash between the Dragons and Panthers is one the Bathurst side should win and win well.
Panthers sits third, Mudgee ranks 11th; Panthers has eight wins so far this season, Mudgee has one; and in round four Panthers trounced Mudgee 40-10.
But there is a reason why Carter is cautious of the Dragons.
It's because last week at Glen Willow - the same venue for Saturday's match - Mudgee sprung one of the upsets of the season when beating second-placed Nyngan 22-18.
Carter also knows complacency has hurt Panthers in the past.
"Mudgee definitely surprised me last week and from all reports Nyngan had a full strength side," Carter said.
"So it will certainly be a challenge this weekend. Mudgee in Mudgee is always a tough task, but I'd like to think the boys are up for it.
"They can look at the ladder and think Mudgee is down near the bottom and only had the one win, but that will destroy them to start with. They can't go over there thinking that, we don't want to be Mudgee's next victim that's for sure.
"I know that mentally these blokes can beat themselves, they've proven that through their junior days. So it's up to those guys this weekend to be in the right mindset."
While the Dragons will undoubtedly be confident given the win over Nyngan - the competition leading Dubbo CYMS the only other side to beat the Tigers so far - Panthers' build up has been less ideal.
Carter's side has sat out the past fortnight with back-to-back byes and before that, lost 56-22 to Forbes at Carrington Park.
"It's been a couple of weeks since we played because we had those byes back-to-back and before that we were absolutely flogged by Forbes. We had a few out for that, but it's absolutely no excuse, the boys just didn't aim up," he said.
"Hopefully we've correct things since then ... the guys themselves were disappointed in the outcome from Forbes, disappointed with their performance."
To avoid further disappointment and retain its spot as the best of the Group 10-based sides in the Western competition, Carter said the key is maintaining intensity.
There's no doubting the talent amongst the Panthers squad - it includes Western Rams representatives Jackson Carter, Tallis Tobin and Tom Lemmich - but the entire side needs to click and maintain pressure.
It's something Carter wants to see given there are just four rounds of the regular season remaining.
"We've just been a little bit patchy all year, we've not been able to string an hour of good level footy together in any week," Carter said.
"It's 10 minutes here and 10 minutes there, 20 minutes here and there, but hopefully coming to the back of the year we can get it all set for the business end.
"The next month is certainly going to be interesting, after Mudgee this week we do the road trip to Dubbo to play Dubbo Macquarie Raiders, so that's another interesting test."
The Western under 18s match between Panthers and Mudgee will kick off at 11.30am Saturday at Glen Willow.
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