Former opponents now halves partners

DAMIEN STANNARD

A bond forged over years of collisions has delivered the Middlemount Panthers the halves partnership it hopes can carry it to a Central Highlands Rugby League title.

Mitch Wyatte and Joel Duffy will lead the Panthers into battle against the Blackwater Crushers in their Round 5 clash at Middlemount on Saturday night.

The pair has more often than not been opponents over the past decade but Wyatte has this year slipped into the blue and gold of Middlemount after winning a string of premierships with Tieri and Bluff.

They also shared a dressing room at Yeppoon but it was their fierce contests in the Central Highlands that nurtured mutual respect and a desire to play with each other for the Panthers.

“It’s been good coming here. I used to have a pretty good rivalry with Middlemount,” said Wyatte whose decorated career has taken him all over central Queensland, including a Queensland Cup stint with the Comets.

“Tieri’s played three grand finals against them.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Duffy. He’s been one of the top players in the comp and I’m sure he will again now that he’s come back.”

Halfback Duffy was one of a handful of veterans lured out of retirement during the pre-season when the Panthers were in desperate need of players.

The playmakers are helping keep together a side that started the season with a bang – a 78-12 win against the Emerald Cowboys – before adding one more win from the next three rounds.

They refuse to use injuries as an excuse but the casualty ward has weighed heavily on Middlemount’s resources.

The Crushers will visit Norm Blanche Oval coveting fourth-placed Middlemount’s standing, while the Panthers’ four-point loss last week to Bluff shone a spotlight on some of their shortcomings.

Wyatte’s confidence in the group has not budged despite their mixed results.

“This team has the potential to give (the premiership) a shake,” said Wyatte who scored a try and kicked six goals in the loss to the Rabbitohs.

“It’s whether they want it bad enough.”

The Panthers are hoping lock Steven Henderson can overcome a back injury to take his place in the pack.




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