Mitch Wyatte (left) and centre/winger Jamie Sullivan get in some extra conditioning session ahead of the grand final.
Middlemount Panther Mitch Wyatte dispatches comparisons to Queensland Origin great Kevin Walters quicker than one of his trademark spiral passes.
In his humble way, the five-eighth would never measure his achievements against those of Walters who won six NRL and NSWRL titles as a player and is two-from-two as Queensland coach.
Still, Wyatte could lay claim to being the Kevin Walters of bush footy as he eyes a sixth Central Highlands Rugby League premiership on Saturday night when his Panthers host the Bluff Rabbitohs at Norm Blanche Oval.
“I don’t know about that (comparisons to Walters),” said Wyatte, for whom Saturday will be his 14th senior grand final.
“When you win it’s pretty good.
“I’ve been pretty lucky. Some blokes don’t get to play one, let alone 14.”
Wyatte’s storied career in central Queensland has included premiership success at almost every turn.
The 32-year-old from Tieri won three titles and two CHRL best and fairest awards representing the now defunct Peak Downs.
When Peak Downs folded he played in back to back grand finals for Bluff, including their 2015 premiership win against Clermont.
There was also a two-year Intrust Super Cup stint with the Central Comets.
Had he accepted a contract offer from Redcliffe earlier in his career, Wyatte’s reputation may have swept even further but Panthers captain-coach Joel Duffy is delighted the playmaker landed in Middlemount.
“He still gets excited and jittery, and to be like that after all these years is pretty special,” said Duffy who has played with and against Wyatte for almost 15 years.
“Players lift around him.
“They run good lines around him and at crucial moments he makes them shine.”
Rugby league in the Central Highlands is almost unrecognisable from its city version.
The mob of kangaroos watching the Panthers train on a dry and hot August Saturday highlight just one point of difference.
Players, whose jobs range from miners, to teachers and graziers, are in it for fun not money.
Clubs rise and fall on the strength of the coal mines that support each of the towns.
And it’s a precarious situation.
Coal and beef prices, fly in-fly out (FIFO) rosters and shift work can either fortify or flatten league clubs.
Middlemount was on life support early last year before Duffy ended a two-year retirement and lured old mate Wyatte into its ranks.
“Duffy rang me and said Middlemount was going to fold,” said Wyatte, a fitter at Glencore’s Oaky North coal operation.
“They used to be our old arch enemy.
“We’ve had some good battles, but I thought I’d come and help out.”
The Panthers desperately needed the rest last weekend after toppling Clermont in an extra-time thriller in the major semi-final.
Many in the team are into their thirties and beginning to feel the bumps and bruises of battle, and of course long, hard hours of underground toil.
Duffy is again eyeing retirement, veteran hooker Jason Randell has been nursing an injury and outside back Jamie Sullivan has a hamstring niggle.
Wyatte has osteitis pubis, which causes chronic groin pain, and performs much of his conditioning on a stationary bike or rower before joining the team later in the week for ball work.
“There’s a few old heads saying if they get this one that will be it,” Wyatte said.
Middlemount homes and businesses have been draped in blue and gold as they await the Rabbitohs from Bluff.
Last year, the Panthers were rapt to merely to reach the grand final and were not devastated to lose that decider to a younger Emerald Tigers outfit.
On Saturday, nothing less than a win will satisfy them.
The Panthers have hovered around the top two all season and the inclusion of Mick Morris and Leigh Coghill – a former Intrust Super Cup regular – have stiffened the pack.
And the laser-accurate boot of winger Matt Heidecker mean points usually flow in sixes, not fours.
“There’s about 13 back from last year,” Wyatte said.
“When we’ve been down and fought back, that’s one thing we’ve been saying. ‘Remember last year?’ It’s lifted us.
“When we take the field for the grand final, it will be the strongest team we’ve had all year.”
*Read how the Bluff Rabbitohs made the grand final here: Bluff to face Panthers in decider