"DON'T ever write Panthers off."
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HIS side may have fallen just short in their mission to knock Mudgee off the top of the Group 10 reserve grade ladder, but Bathurst Panthers coach Ben Gunn has still issued that stern warning.
Gunn's Panthers suffered a 28-22 loss to the Dragons on Saturday at Glen Willow, but the experienced five-eighth took plenty of heart from the performance.
"Mudgee, they're the top team of the competition so it was a good gauge for us. It was their old boys day and they were at home so we knew they'd have fire in the belly," he said.
"But it was a very, very winnable game for us, we shot out to a 10-point lead in the second half, just a bit of discipline let us down and some handling errors and to Mudgee's credit, they capitalised off the back of that.
"We had a couple of chances to even it back up in the last five minutes, but passes sometimes don't stick."
Fuelled by the emotion of old boys day, Mudgee opened scoring in the top of the table clash when prop Nicholas Wilson crashed over in the third minute.
But Panthers' response was not long in coming. When it came it highlights why Gunn knows his side is a title contender.
Halfback Joey Bugg opened Panthers' account in the 10th minute and off the set which followed the men in black were in again, this time Talon Hodge being the scorer.
Panthers had the momentum and made sure they kept it with a third try in the space of eight minutes thanks to Kris Kennedy. That made it 14-6.
Though Mudgee clawed some of that deficit back to trail 14-12 at the break, early in the second half Panthers struck again.
Second rower Hodge crossed for his second try, with Harry Hopkins adding the extras then booting a penalty goal not long after to make it 22-12.
However, as some fatigue crept into Panther legs the men in black were guilty of conceding penalties and soft turnovers.
Mudgee capitalised with three tries in 10 minutes, Curtis Solomon, Thomas Jackson and Ryan O'Connor all crossing. It handed the hosts a six-point win.
"Mudgee they had a really good rotation and just sort of grinded us down in the middle," Gunn said.
"I think the way the byes have fallen for us we've lost a bit of match fitness, we had one before this game and next week we've got another one, but it is what it is.
"We just have to work hard and the boys will respond, they're a very young playing group, it's a good learning curve for them."
Gunn laughed that instead of having the week off training given Panthers sit out the next round with the bye, that they'd instead be running.
But he knows that hard work will serve Panthers well as they work towards their ultimate goal of a premiership.
"It would've been very nice to have the two points heading into the bye, but we'll just work hard, we finish with two home games now," he said.
"By all means I think we can be there in the end, I think we can match it with any team in the competition."
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