“HERE we are!” was the cry resounding from the returning Candelo-Bemboka Panthers rugby league team as it made its presence felt on Sunday.
The Group 16 Nines tournament with a crowd in excess of 600 was an excellent starting point for the Panthers, in a round-robin format against the region’s best.
For their first official showing on the paddock in about 40 years, the Panthers played exceptional football, but could not stop competition powerhouse, and last year’s premiers, the Moruya Sharks.
The Sharks were the eventual tournament winners in a 33-0 steamrolling of the Eden Tigers after dominating their pool.
However, the Panthers provided one of the strongest opponents to the Sharks’ raid on Sunday.
The Panthers also claimed an emphatic win over the Bega Roosters, which played out some friendly rivalry.
Club president Dave Allen said the “stakes were raised a little bit” for some of the Panthers going against their former club.
“There was a bit of a grudge match ... it was a friendly rivalry,” Allen said.
The Panthers did well, narrowly losing to Cooma, then defeating the Roosters and after a loss to Eden had a good enough margin to make the semi finals.
“Our boys started the season on a high,” Allen said.
“The first game was a bit rusty against Cooma, but in the second game against Bega they played a lot better.
Allen said other clubs were missing a few key players for the tournament, while the Panthers had the “best team they could muster” and that might have an impact when the season proper starts.
The showing was good enough for the Panthers to make the semi final after finishing second in its pool on for and against.
However, the clash saw them take on a rampaging Moruya Sharks team led by Tim Weyman.
The Sharks were unfazed by every team they faced on the day, but Allen said the Panthers gave them a good run for their money.
“They were physically a lot bigger than us, but we held our own which was really pleasing.
“They were premiers last year and they will be the team to beat this year,” he said.
Allen said the club “had a lot to play for” and overall fitness played a big part in the team’s solid showing on the day.
“Our fitness held us in good stead, in the semi final we still had a bit of petrol in the tank.
“Our players played really well – they’ve been training for about five or six weeks.”
Meanwhile, the Roosters scored a win against Cooma, but lost to Eden and the Panthers to miss the semi finals on for and against.
The Tathra Sea Eagles were unable to put any wins on the board after taking on a strong second pool against the Narooma Devils, Moruya Sharks and the Group 7 Bay Tigers.
Group 16 action continues this week with the launch of pre-season games.
Allen said he was excited with the Panthers to take on Eden in a twilight match at the Pambula Sporting Complex on Saturday.
“We’ve got the partnership with the Merimbula-Pambula and we’re sharing home games, so the first home game is at the ‘Dog Pound’,” Allen said.
“We’re looking forward to that and hopefully keeping the good start to the year going.,” he said.