Shorty inspires Panthers to regroup for 2016

A month after teetering on the brink of oblivion, the Middlemount Panthers are roaring towards Round 1 thanks to a little help from an absent mate.

The Panthers host Central Highlands Rugby League rival Emerald Cowboys on Saturday night, but the 2010 premiers were just a breath away from folding last month when they struggled to assemble a team.

All that changed on the night of the Nathan “Shorty” Moffatt Memorial Game against Mackay Norths.

 Nathan “Shorty” Moffatt

Players previously thought lost to the club were drawn back to Norm Blanche Oval and were energised by the memory of one of Middlemount’s favourite sons who was killed in a car accident in 2014.

“The whole culture changed (overnight),” co-coach Will Davidson said. “Six weeks ago there wasn’t going to be a team, but Shorty’s game tugged at a few heartstrings.”

Still, the Panthers were effectively coach-less, with no one available to take on the sapping demands of running the show.

So, the Panthers designed an unusual structure of four co-coaches to share the load of keeping together this talented group which is constantly challenged by the nature of shift work in the mining industry.

Joel Duffy was lured out of retirement thanks to the inspirational words of brother-in-law Ryan Hansell to join himself, Davidson and Jim Gallagher Medal winner Mitch Wyatte in a four-pronged management team boasting a combined experience of more than 250 A Grade and representative games.

“With the rosters being the way they are, no one can commit 100% to the job,” said Hansell, who has taken on the strength and conditioning portion of the job while the remaining trio tackle the technical aspects.

“But it works pretty well. The last few weeks everyone got on board.”

Former Tieri forward Joe Toatofi is a key recruit for the Panthers, while Duffy and Wyatte will steer the side from the halves.

Another Jim Gallagher Medal winner, veteran Jason Randell, will be an important member of the squad as he combines playing duties with educating Middlemount Community School senior Michael Dyson in the subtleties of playing hooker.

The Middlemount Panthers are back in action for season 2016.