Rugby League: Young Mallabula Panthers team paves path to senior ranks with grand final win

VICTORY: The Mallabula Panthers under-17 side defeated Central Charlestown 26-10 in the Hunter Valley Combined grand final on Saturday. They were the only junior Panthers team to compete in 2020.
VICTORY: The Mallabula Panthers under-17 side defeated Central Charlestown 26-10 in the Hunter Valley Combined grand final on Saturday. They were the only junior Panthers team to compete in 2020.

Mallabula Rugby League Club's under-17 team showed plenty of character when they defeated minor premiers Central Charlestown 26-10 in the Hunter Valley Combined competition's grand final on Saturday.

The young Panthers went into the game at St John Oval in Charlestown with just three players on the bench due to a heavy injury toll in semi-final games. Despite this, as soon as the game started the Panthers had the Butcher Boys in trouble and had a half time lead of 14-6.

It came on the back of a perfect completion rate thanks to a hard working forward pack that provided the grunt up front. This allowed the clever half pairing of Alex Lidbury and Jayden Newson to score three of the team's four tries.

Tough front rower Dylan Long was awarded the best on ground trophy. Back rower and tackling tyro Jacob Baira was a stand out in defence.

For coach Dean Gordon who has been with the bulk of this team for 10 years, it was fitting reward for his efforts. He thanked the senior Mallabula club for "for taking us under their wing this season", helping them to juggle their program and to get through the strict COVID restrictions.

"Also the support from committee and players [that] showed up to support us... was outstanding. The boys look up to their seniors and were stoked to see you there," he said.

The young side earned their place in the grand final after beating West Maitland in a tough elimination final 17-14 the weekend before.

Meanwhile, the senior Panthers team were devastated to miss out on a semi-finals berth in controversial circumstances following their 28-24 loss to Dudley on Saturday. The Panthers produced a lionhearted effort in an attempt to secure a semi spot and looked on track.

They were leading 20-10 at half time before a lopsided penalty count and playing with 12 men after two 10 minute sin binnings saw them compete with out the ball in the second stanza.

The centre pairing of Scott Holland and Luke Perry had strong games. Back rower Nick Hor had his usual busy game.

On a brighter note, Scott Hollands' ladies league tag team qualified for a semi-final spot on Saturday.

The Panthers women posted an impressive 30-0 win against Hamilton Ducks in their final game of the regular season.

Best for the Bula girls were playmakers Penny Prior and Kiara Dixon.

The Panthers ladies will face Hamilton again in the semi-final on October 10.