Competition Heavyweights Clash In Castlereagh Final

Updated: September 8, 2017
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Traditional rivals Gilgandra and Coonamble meet in Saturday’s 2017 Castlereagh League decider with the Panthers keen to continue the generational switch in competition supremacy.

The Bears were the original powerhouses of the Castlereagh League (formed in 2001), winning seven of the first nine titles, including five straight premierships between 2005 and 2009.

Meanwhile, Gilgandra has been the premier club this decade, taking out top honours in 2011, 2013 and 2016.

The Panthers are favourites to win back-to-back crowns having been undefeated this season.

Gilgandra president Peter Hazelton said Gilgandra’s bench and back-line have been great this season, working off the solid platform laid by the Panthers’ big men.

The keys to victory lie with halves Luke Ritchie and Brandon Hammond while fullback Curtis Carr is a “little champion”.

“We never lose anything with our bench, they are fantastic,” Hazelton said. “It’s a real strength.”

Hazelton said it’s hard to predict numbers but he is expecting a bumper home crowd at Gilgandra.

He said Dunedoo are traditionally great followers and will bring numbers to watch its league tag side while he was also impressed Baradine have been able to make the Youth League (under 18s) decider.

“When you get three games of football together it’s fantastic,” Hazelton said.

“We have great support, some of the best in the league. With six different teams in action it’s going to be a great day.” 

Coonamble will also have a host of fans travel the 95km south on the Castlereagh Highway to watch the grand final.

Bears stalwart Joe Bellgardt is a keen observer of the game having “done it all” in an association spanning more than 40 years with Coonamble.

Currently secretary, Bellgardt has held most roles on the committee and was a former long-serving Bears player before his time in administration. 

“The boys are upbeat, we are confident of an upset if they play to their best,” Bellgardt said.

“Gilgandra are a very structured side … our boys need to get up in their faces and put them off their game.”

While aiming for back-to-back titles, it’s also Gilgandra’s third consecutive grand final appearance.

Meanwhile, after winning six premierships last decade, Coonamble will be playing its first decider since 2014.

Gilgandra and Coonamble last met in a Castlereagh League decider back in 2009 when the Bears won 32-26.

Gilgandra’s three smallest victories have all come against Coonamble, all by 16 points.

In round two (April 8) at Coonamble, Gilgandra won 34-18. The margin did not change on June 24 at McGrane Oval (round 11) when the Panthers got up 36-20. A fortnight back in the major semi-final Gilgandra prevailed 28-12.

The Panthers have been the competition powerhouses this decade, winning titles in 2011, 2013 and last year when they came from behind to defeat Gulgong 28-22.

“The boys are confident but are quite mindful we are meeting a very hard opponent,” Hazelton said.

“Every game has been closer than the score-line suggests … Coonamble have a very strong and mobile forward pack. They have great bench players.”

Castlereagh League now has a 12-6 Interchange Policy.  Hazelton said Coonamble was extremely dangerous under the old unlimited interchange rule and still boasts great metre eaters.

It’s believed Gilgandra last went back-to-back in 1986 and 1987 when they won consecutive Group 14 first grade titles.

The Panthers beat Cobar 14-6 in 1986 before downing Nyngan 23-16 in extra-time a year later.

Hazelton added he would love to see new captain-coach Jamie Towney win a premiership as mentor after being a long-serving player for the Panthers.

“It would be great for him and all the boys with all the work they have put in,” Hazelton said.

Meanwhile, Bellgardt said Coonamble’s strength is its forward pack with Moe Jacobs, Aaron West, Joe Goldsmith and Mitchell Smith leading the way.

Shutting down the astute line running of Panther Ashley Hazelton is critical for the Bears, Bellgardt said.

Hazelton was the player of the grand final in Gilgandra’s six-point comeback success against Gulgong last year.

From there, Coonamble can get halves Marshall Williams and Matt Hall to direct an inexperienced back five around the field.

“It’s a good rivalry … but we get together for a beer afterwards,” he said.

“Gilgandra is a good club to play against, but there won’t be any friends out there on the field.”

First-year non-playing coach Mark Ewers has also done an excellent job to get the Bears fit in 2017.

“He has gotten the best out of them so far,” Bellgardt said.

The first grade grand final headlines a great day of action at McGrane Oval that will commence with the Youth League grand final at 11.30am.

 

CASTLEREAGH LEAGUE – Saturday September 9 2017 at Tony McGrane Oval, Gilgandra

11.30am Youth League Grand Final – Coonabarabran Unicorns v Baradine Magpies

12.45pm Ladies League Tag Grand Final – Dunedoo Swans v Warren Bulldogs

2.00pm First grade Grand Final – Gilgandra Panthers v Coonamble Bears (Gilgandra remains undefeated

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