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23 June, 2023

Panthers 2013 legends watch-on; as home-side bag first season win

Castlereagh Rugby League - May 30, 2023

A healthy home crowd — and proud members of the Gilgandra Panther’s premiership 2013 side celebrating their 10-year anniversary — witnessed the 2023 Panthers take to McGrane Oval Saturday, May 27.

Going into battle against the Coonabarabran Unicorns, the Panthers were searching for their first win of the season, with things looking good in the opening minutes.

 Shane Ritchie, after only five minutes of play, put a grubber-kick behind the Unicorn defensive line with Ty Sutherland pouncing on the bouncing ball to touchdown out-wide to get the scoreboard ticking.

This, however, sparked the Unicorns into action and, soon after, Anthony Harris bullocked his way over from close-range. Nick Willoughby then converted from wide-out to give the visitors a 6-4 lead. From this point on, the Panthers enjoyed plenty of possession and, at about the 15-minute mark, Brandon Hammond split the “Coona” defence to score under the posts and give himself an easy conversion, with the Panthers now back in front, 10-6.

The Panthers then went on the attack from the restart and, soon after, Shane Ritchie tried his luck again with a kick close to the line. Ritchie was able to regather and score, to make it 14-6 to the Panthers.

In more good news for the local side, with only three minutes remaining in the first half, DJ Smith finishedoff another Panther raid on the Coona line to score. With the Panthers seemingly well in control, they were again pressing the Coona line as the half-time hooter was about to sound, but a wayward pass landed in the hands of Coona halfback, Harry Reardon who raced 90 metres to score.

Willoughby duly converted the try, and it was “game-on” as both sides went to the sheds with the Panthers leading 18-12.

Coona were first to score in the second stanza with a converted try to Reardon to level the game up at 18-18 but, five minutes later, the Panthers pounced when big Alex Sutherland proved too much for the Coona defence to slam the ball over the white line. DJ Smith converted, and the Panthers were back in front 24-18; Ashley Hazelton then crashed-over soon after to extend the Panthers lead and Smith’s conversion made it 30-18.

The Unicorns refused to go away, however and, with 20 minutes remaining, Jack Ramage forced his way over the line for the visitors.

Willoughby converted and Coona trailed 30-24. Two minutes later, Nick Willoughby burst through some ordinary Panther’s defence to race 60 metres to the line and convert to even the scores up again at 30-30.

The Panther crowd came to life and tried to lift the home side and, with nine minutes to go, captain, Luke Ritchie gave a perfect pass to DJ Smith who toucheddown under the sticks. Smith’s conversion made it 36-30 and, with the “reunion boys” making plenty of noise on the hill, it was Smith who again finished-off another Panther’s raid when he touched-down in canteen corner, much to the delight of the home crowd.

Brandon Hammond converted from wide-out and, as the siren sounded, the Panthers posted a 42-30 victory with a lot more confidence now heading into the rest of the season.

The Panthers were once-again bestserved by Kenny Johnson, who is enjoying a great start to the season, along with Ashley Hazelton who played his first game for the year. Young gun, Isaiah Gleadhill has also been great off the bench for the Panthers, and he continues to improve with every game.

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