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Grand final heartbreak inspiring McCallum to avenge 2020 defeat

Around rugby league circles, it's commonly said you've got to experience the feeling of losing a grand final before you can win one.

And for the playing group of the historic West Brisbane Panthers, they're very much hoping that sentiment rings true when they run out at BMD Kougari Oval on Saturday.

It was a pretty sombre occasion for the mud and bloods around this time just under 12 months ago, stepping off Bishop Park batted and bruised after being outclassed and outplayed in the big dance by Wynnum Manly, 41-6.

But despite this year being a new dawn, a new day, a new life... the motivation to avenge last season's result is fresh in the minds of the beaten grand finalists, especially for captain / coach Gerard McCallum, who endured watching the Seagulls celebrate their three-peat.

"It’s definitely hard losing grand finals, especially the way it was last year and I might not get another one, so I definitely want to win this one," the 28-year-old said.

A big step in making amends of last year's disappoint was getting one back on the defending premiers, ending their chances of winning the quadrella with a dominant 48-16 dispatch at last weekend's preliminary final.

West Brisbane celebrate their semi-final victory against Valleys in 2020. Photo: Vanessa Hafner
West Brisbane celebrate their semi-final victory against Valleys in 2020. Photo: Vanessa Hafner

"It was good to get one back on them. Last year they embarrassed us in the grand final," McCallum said.

"[In that decider], it was tight in the first half but they blew us away in the second half so it was good to get the result."

The Panthers now have one final hurdle to overcome... an age old feud between two foes that has existed since the beginning of the Brisbane Rugby League competition over a century ago.

"There is a massive historic rivalry between Valleys and Wests as the two clubs, but I don’t think any of the players on the field hold that rivalry," McCallum said.

"Times have changed but it’s definitely a great occasion for two of the oldest clubs in Brisbane, that’s for sure.

"Last year, we did them in the semis, so they’ll want revenge."

With Valleys getting the spoils by six points on each of the two physical occasions they faced off this season, McCallum is expecting much of the same in Saturday's big clash.

"They’re a big side so they’ll be just trying to come straight through us I think," McCallum said.

"Their forward pack will try and out-muscle us, so it’s important that we win that middle third of the field because that’s how they’re going to want to play."

West Brisbane Panthers forward Krys Freeman. Photo: Jorja Brinums/QRL
West Brisbane Panthers forward Krys Freeman. Photo: Jorja Brinums/QRL

Juggling the captaincy and coaching role - replacing Craig 'Trigger' Ingebrigsten with the clipboard this season - McCallum said the turning point of their season was when he was assisted by the former West Brisbane mentor, who returned in a temporary capacity with his right hand man, Zac Wallwork.

"Butters, Krys Freeman and I - along with a few of the senior boys - held us together the whole year, but as it started to get on, it got a bit hard to make changes while I was on the field," the Panthers captain / coach said.

"Particularly just running the game day stuff, so I got Trigger on board but then he had to step away with other commitments so Trigger’s right hand man Zac helped me out for the rest of the year.

"[Our season] definitely changed when they came on board because they could see it from a different perspective and a different set of eyes.

"We could run the game stuff, but it was more like the changes at the right time obviously because it’s hard to make changes while you’re playing footy."

Alongside the full-time West Brisbane players, the crafty playmaker credits the Norths Devils-contracted players who have returned to Brisbane's top grade with an A-plus attitude to get the result for their Intrust Super Cup feeder team.

"The boys from Norths have done a massive job for us this year. Everyone who has come back has done a very very good job... especially the likes of Calum Gahan and Liam Horne. They’re both really really good players," McCallum said.

"Liam was playing really well for us this year but then he went away and played for the Capras to get some Intrust Super Cup experience because he couldn’t get it at the time at Norths and when he came back, he’s just thrived.

"He just loves playing footy no matter what level it is or where he is.

"With Cal, he’s a great player and he’s probably been our best week-in, week-out over the last month because he’s just bought in to everything we’ve done and he’s a massive part of our side."

With countless story lines spurring the club to lift the prestigious trophy at full-time come Saturday, McCallum said their entire playing group was ready to break their title drought.

"The motivation is there across our entire group too. You’ve got Tommy Butterfield who has lost a few, Krys Freeman as well.

"The hunger is there across the board so I think it’s going to be a cracker."

The 2021 Brisbane Premier A Grade grand final kicks off at 4pm on Saturday, October 9 at BMD Kougari Oval, Wynnum.