Bundaberg’s Western Suburbs Panthers Rugby League club has had more than its share of trials and tribulations in recent years, especially in the wake of the closure of their sports club in February 2016, but two things have never changed – their long and endless production line of outstanding young players and their indomitable spirit.
Wests started the Bundaberg Broadcasters A Grade Premiership season with an honourable 20-6 loss to Past Brothers, but they have won their two subsequent games, against Maryborough Brothers 32-0, then a last-start 48-8 win over Hervey Bay Seagulls which moved them to third position on the ladder.
Even with 12 rounds to go, they are on track for finals football.
And a name which has been synonymous with the club since its evolution out of the former Railways Club in 1975 – Tanner – had another strong presence against the Seagulls.
Club vice-president Corey Tanner, 38, a former long serving champion of the club for most of his playing career, is also the senior club coach, his wife Alison is secretary, two of his talented brothers, Joshua (33) and Daniel (31), have been reunited at the Panthers for the first time in years, and one of his cousins, Nicholas, led the charge with a double.
Tanner said his grandfather Arthur played for Railways throughout his career and that his father Nathan and uncles Danny (who passed away five years ago), Graham and Wes also played juniors for Railways before being foundation players for Wests.
“With my three children (Marcus, LeBron and Caitlin) also now playing for the club, four generations of Tanners have played for Wests; it's like family to me and I just love it,” Tanner said.
“It’s extra special with Josh and Dan playing together for Wests, probably for the first time since 2005.
“Josh has captained Rockhampton Norths in 2015, 16 and 17 to win a few grand finals and he played with Dan for Blackwater Crushers to win the Central Highlands grand final last year as well.
“At the moment, they can only play on alternate weeks because they still work in the mines, but Josh has a baby due soon and will be on leave, and both of them will be right for the finals.”
Daniel was man of the match against Hervey Bay.
Like his father, Corey Tanner has also been a champion for rugby league at large and for the Indigenous community.
The Tanner legacy at the club looks set to continue for years to come with 16-year-old Marcus an integral member of their ladder leading Under 18 team, LeBron making his mark in Under 10 and Caitlin a member of the also strong Panthers Under 13s and halfback for the Bundaberg Under 14 girls side.
Tanner is also immensely proud of all the club’s young talent. A number have headed north or south to pursue higher honours, but their 17-man team that took to the field against Hervey Bay incorporatws 15 Panthers junior products.
This included Jensen Deamer, who started in Under 7s 11 years ago, and had turned 17 just two days earlier. He celebrated with a late try and conversion after backing up from Under 18s to come off the bench.
Tanner also made special mention of interchange front rower Tomasi Tikonilia, who played all three senior grades in a day for the second time this year and had scored one try each in Under 18 and Reserve Grade games earlier in the afternoon.
“Jensen is just a great kid, and we will also try and use Tommy (Tikonilia) more and more as he gets his match fitness up, and there are a few other young guys sitting there waiting for a go,” he said.
Tanner said they are also honoured to have a wonderful role model in 25-year-old captain and second rower James Prichard, who was the 2018 BRL A Grade Player of the Year and is now in his 10th season with the club.
“Jimmy is a quiet leader but he always leads from the front and it’s good to have a young captain like him because he’s going to be around these young blokes for years to come,” he said.
The Panthers will face a tough test when they take on the unbeaten Wallaroos at Salter Oval when fixtures resume after a two-week recess this Saturday, but while they will be bolstered by the return of a few young guns from Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup duty, Tanner’s main goal at the moment is just to keep improving every game, with his focus on September.
“We want to make top five – that’s our goal – and see where we land from there – I don’t think anyone will want to play Wests in the finals – premierships aren’t won in April or May,” he added.