September 4, 2019
Nanango Panthers’ fans are celebrating after their teams took out both the men’s and women’s titles at Saturday’s grand finals of the South Burnett senior soccer competition.
The victories top off a gruelling 15-round season followed by three weeks of finals.
The wins marked a return to form for the Panthers, who missed out last year when the women’s team was narrowly defeated by Barambah, and the men failed to secure a grand final berth after taking out the top honours the previous seven years.
Both matches were played in Nanango on the unfamiliar turf of rugby league’s Fred Kassulke Oval.
The change of venue enabled the men’s game to be played under lights as well as providing a licensed bar and canteen for spectators.
The clubhouse was decked out with blue and white streamers and fans made sure the Nanango teams had lots of hometown support on the sidelines.
* * *
The day began with the Women’s Division Grand Final between the Panthers and Barambah.
Barambah were the first to draw blood.
Unwilling to wait for the Panthers to launch their signature synchronised attacks, the Bears decided to pile on the pressure early.
This decision quickly paid off for the northerners when Bears’ captain Elle Mollenhauer found a hole in the big cats’ defences barely five minutes into the match to open her side’s account.
She was followed soon afterwards by team-mate Sarah Kemp, who effortlessly blitzed a second goal past the seemingly bewildered Panthers’ defenders.
When Sarah repeated this feat another 10 minutes into the first half with an ankle-jarring shot, the gravity of being 3-nil down in a grand final with three-quarters of the match still to be played seemed to dawn on the blue-and-whites.
From that point on, the Panthers visibly stepped up their game, showing the form that has made the side one of the deadliest in the competition.
Barambah kept the action focussed on the Panthers’ half of the field during the early stages of the match.
The tables turned at the midway point of the first half, with Barambah only able to make limited sorties on to enemy turf.
However, the Panthers found themselves unable to improve their situation before half-time, going into the break down 3-0.
This was quickly reversed soon after the action resumed.
Maxine Evans opened Nanango’s account with a deftly pocketed rocket, and she was followed by veteran Raegan Campbell and captain Alex Psarros as the match wore on.
It was a three-all when the whistle blew, which led to a bout of extra time during which the scoreline remained stubbornly the same.
The only solution was the dreaded penalty shoot-out.
The shootout had both teams level pegging on the first two balls, then both teams missed a goal, before the Panthers finally clinched the match on the fifth attempt.
Panthers’ coach Cass Kelly said she felt sorry for the Bears, who played a valiant game.
The two teams had faced off at last year’s Grand Finals, where Barambah had put an end to the Panthers’ two year reign at the top of the Women’s competition.
“It’s always good to win,” Cass said, “but a penalty shootout is the worst way to lose, especially in a grand final.”
Panthers’ captain Alexandria Psarros singled out two of her youngest players, Bec and Montana, who put in “a marathon effort”.
Barambah captain Elle Mollenhauer congratulated the Panthers but said her team had done an awesome job.
“I’m not even that upset what we lost because it was such an awesome game,” she said.
* * *
Nanango faced off against arch-rivals Gunners in the second grand final played on Saturday.
Last year, the withdrawal of several senior Panthers players to take part in the Toowoomba competition left the side struggling as juniors worked their way through a long apprenticeship in First Division.
But it was a different story this year and on Saturday, Nanango proved their 2019 form was no fluke.
The in-form Gunners fell to the Panthers’ assaults in the first half, leaving holes in their defence that Nanango had no hesitation exploiting.
Harry Sterling was the first to find an opportunity to open Panthers’ account, followed soon afterwards by Ryan Harper and Kieran Mangan.
This left the Panthers with a 3-nil lead at half-time.
Gunners came out in the second half with a tightened defence that cooled the Panthers’ attack, although Sterling still managed to notch up his second goal for the match.
Gunners’ efforts were finally rewarded when Brad Edwards chested the ball into the opposition’s nets but in the end, Panthers took the title 4-1.