Hornby Panthers head into 2018 on the back of consecutive grand final losses to archrivals Linwood Keas. But if stability is any guide, the Panthers are well-placed to end their five-season title drought.

The club has retained virtually its entire 2017 premiers squad, with the notable exception of veteran Craig Smith – though coach Jed Lawrie remains unconvinced the hulking centre’s retirement is permanent.

“He did say he might turn back up to training shortly, so I don’t know if he’s fully retired yet,” Lawrie said.

Meanwhile, the Panthers have acquired rugged front-rower Rulon Nutira, who returns to Canterbury after stints at St George Illawarra and Redcliffe. Several newcomers have also bolstered the squad.

“We’ve picked up seven or eight rugby boys, which is a good sign for league,” Lawrie revealed.

“And Brad Campbell, a 19-year-old from the Coast – he’s played a lot of rep footy and impressed in the trials.”

Rockcote Canterbury Bulls rep Dene Grace will have a delayed start to the season due to a shoulder injury and Gene Spooner won’t return until his Six Shooter racing commitments are over, but an experienced line-up headlined by James Baxendale and Corey Lawrie should ensure the Panthers hit the ground running.

The 2016-17 grand finals still sting, but Lawrie said it’s important to find a balance between using the losses to spur the team on and putting too much emphasis on the past at the beginning of a long campaign.

“At the start of the year you use it as a bit of motivation, but you try not to use it too much and then use it again at the back-end of the season.

“We’re just concentrating on what we can do best in our first game.”

But the Panthers can’t avoid their rivalry with the Keas in the short term: for the second straight season, the heavyweights have been drawn to play each other in Round 1.

“They’ve got a few boys still out, same as us, but it’s looking like a good team they’re building. It’ll be a big test,” Lawrie says.

The grand final rematch status will be secondary, however, to the club’s momentous return to a refurbished Leslie Park after playing out of Branston Park for all of last season.

Lawrie is determined that Hornby makes the homecoming count after achieving a remarkable feat in 2017.

“We always aim for that grand final and the main goal is to go one better, but we’ve got little goals in between that like winning all our home games, like we did last year,” Lawrie said.

“We made Branston Park a bit of a fortress last year, so one of goals being back at Leslie Park is to make that a fortress.

“There will be no excuses after what we did at Branston.

“The club’s volunteers have put in a massive effort and a lot of work into the club as well.

“The boys are going to be pretty impressed when they get back there and have a look around. We’re pretty lucky to have a great bunch of volunteers.”


Years active (premiers division): 1917-20, 1923-present
Titles: 27 – 1926-27, 1930, 1933-34, 1936, 1952, 1958, 1962, 1964-67, 1969, 1983-84, 1986, 1990-91, 1996-97, 2001, 2006, 2009-10, 2012-13
2018 Coach: Jed Lawrie
Last season: 2nd and beaten grand finalists (won 11, lost 5)

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