DOWN just 10-6 at half-time in Saturday's Peter McDonald Premiership clash away to Mudgee Dragons, things were still in control for Bathurst Panthers.
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That quickly unravelled when Dragons' Nathan Orr scored eight minutes into the new half, starting what would be a dominant stretch of play from the hosts on their way to a 38-10 win at Glen Willow Stadium.
It was a rough game on both the scoreboard and the injury ward for Panthers, with Claude tearing his hamstring and McCoy White leaving the game with concussion.
There was a 40 minute stretch of the match where Panthers held the Dragons to just a single try and it gave Bathurst coach Jake Betts confidence that his side could go with the Group 10 ladder front runners.
"I don't think the scoreboard reflects the game. Looking game, I think that the boys performed well and in the first half we probably defended seven or eight sets on our own line," Betts said.
"We picked up a few injuries and things went a bit pear-shaped in the second half but I still think we take some confidence out of it.
"Mudgee are a quality side. They played their brand of footy, and kept grinding away. There was a period there where we kept them scoreless and I thought that might start to frustrate them but they just kept coming at us."
Panthers suffered a blow before the opening whistle when their leading centre pairing of Jeremy Gordon and Keelan Bresac both had to withdraw.
Mudgee's Ben Thompson got the scoring underway with a try in the sixth minute but Panthers were able to hit back through Josh Rivett and level it up at 6-all.
After persistent attacks at the Panthers' try line the Dragons eventually broke through for their second four-pointer of the day through Corin Smith.
Momentum continued to stay with the Dragons through the remainder of the first half but the Panthers defence kept the damage to a minimum until the break.
However, once Orr scored for the Dragons it sparked a match-winning run of tries.
Dragons scored two more times before the hour mark and even a try against the run of play to Panthers' Charlie Hutchings didn't stop the momentum.
Chad Chandler and Charlie Clayton each scored to seal the deal for the Dragons and ensure they have a share of the lead on the Group 10 ladder with Orange CYMS.
Things don't get a lot easier next round for the Panthers next round as they get set to travel to face Dubbo Macquarie Raiders.
And it remains to be seen what a finals Panthers side will look like for that trip.
"Hopefully Claude will be alright. He's getting scans on Tuesday. We're waiting to see what Jez is doing too. He's got scans coming up as well," Betts said.
"I said to the boys afterwards that the only thing they need to worry about is themselves. We'll be alright and I believe we'll still be there when the whips are cracking."
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