SG Ball Grand Final Preview
The 2018 SG Ball Cup wraps up this weekend as the Panthers and Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs face off in the Grand Final of the prestigious NSWRL under-18s competition.
The two sides will do battle at Leichardt Oval, 4pm Saturday, in what shapes as a fiery western Sydney showdown.
The Panthers are looking to secure their eighth SG Ball premiership while the Bulldogs are aiming to reverse the result from their loss to the Panthers in Round 6 and end a nine-year SG Ball premiership drought.
The Panthers have enjoyed an outstanding 2018 campaign, going through the regular season undefeated before suffering a shock loss to Newcastle Knights in the first week of the finals.
However the Panthers bounced back, defeating the Canberra Raiders in the semi-finals before an extra-time field goal by halfback Hayden Bonnano sealed a 17-16 preliminary final win over the Cronulla Sharks and a ticket to the Grand Final.
The Bulldogs finished the regular season in fifth position on the ladder and brushed aside the Illawarra Steelers in the first week of the finals before upsetting minor premiers Sydney Roosters in the semi-finals.
The Bulldogs then left it late in a dramatic 32-28 win over the Knights last week to claim a Grand Final berth.
The Bulldogs are on a six-game winning streak and have not lost a game since falling to the Panthers in Round 6, however Panthers captain Shawn Blore is in high spirits ahead of the decider.
"The boys have been coming here every week since November giving their all, and nothing has changed this week so I'm very confident," Blore said.
"We've worked hard all year and the rewards are starting to come through, and I know the boys will dig in this week.
"Our preparation has been excellent and I'm confident that we'll do well."
Panthers SG Ball coach Jamie O'Keefe was quick to remind the players that their biggest test is yet to come after last week's win over the Sharks, but is confident that the team can go all the way if they stick to their systems.
"The first thing I said to the boys last weekend was that we still have one more game," O'Keefe said.
"All the way since November, our training has been built on defence, repeated efforts and never giving up.
"They've defended their way to victory many times this year, and did so against the Sharks last weekend, so if their defence is up to scratch on Saturday I am confident they'll get the job done.
"Either way, I'm just really proud of these boys."