Bathurst Panthers has fired an early warning shot to its rivals, making light work of Mudgee Dragons in a massive 36-0 win in the final of the pre-season knockout on Saturday.
Played at the club's home ground of Carrington Park, Panthers won its two pool stage matches against two teams that did not play in Group 10 premier league last year - Cowra Magpies and Blayney Bears to the scoreline of 18-10 and 34-6 respectively.
But it was Mudgee's results in the pool stage that were the most impressive, a massive 32-6 win over last season's minor premiers Orange CYMS and a 22-4 win against St Pat's.
However, Panthers were rarely challenged by Dragons, who ultimately won their second consecutive knockout crown.
Panthers skipper Jake Betts said the win will be a big confidence boost for the club, as it plans to kick-off its Peter McDonald Premiership campaign next month.
"Yeah it's definitely a confidence booster, it's always good to win the knockout," he said.
"But no one remembers that at the end of the year, so we'll get back to training on Tuesday and work hard.
"The comp starts in about three to four weeks, so we'll work towards that. We've got a trial match in two weeks [against Orange Hawks], so we'll put our best team forward there and go from there."
Mudgee gave away the game's first penalty and Panthers made the most from it, Josh Rivett scoring a try in the following set.
Four minutes later and the same mistake from Mudgee gave the hosts another try, as Claude Gordon went over. Rivett added the extras.
Callum Limon would be the next to go over for Panthers, intercepting a Mudgee pass and running eighty metres to score.
With five minutes to go before the break (the match was played over 25-minute halves), Mudgee went down to 12 men when Nathan Orr was sent to the bin. Panthers would continue to push the error-ridden Dragons, with Blake Lawson scoring three tackles later and Rivett converted to have the hosts up 20-0.
Panthers would continue their onslaught in the second half, with Kevin Large, Daniel Bain and Keelan Bresac all scoring tries, with the only sign of complacency the sin-binning of Jed Betts with only two minutes to go.
Betts said his team made the most of its chances
"I think what really set us up was muscling up in the middle there," he said.
"The first two games we were sort of playing sideways and we spoke about that before the final. We needed to earn the right to play a bit of footy.
"I think McCoy [White] and Bono [Daniel Bain] really did that and that set the platform for Buggy [Joey Bugg] and Jez [Jeremy Gordon] out the back."
Mudgee coach Jack Littlejohn was extremely disappointed with his team's performance.
"To play against a side like that and make the mistakes like that, they capitlise on it and they did," he said
"We needed to improve on our handling, discipline. Other than that, our shape looks good. I thought we defended - except for this game - really well.
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