By HARRY CLARKE
THE underdogs reigned supreme but “everybody went home happy” on a weekend of rugby league which saw every Western Downs club represented in two separate preseason carnivals.
For the first time in six years the Tara Panthers raised the Terry Charles Memorial Trophy in the annual round robin competition, which was this year held at Ross Bourke Oval in Taroom.
As the only club in the carnival which doesn’t field a team for the regular season, coach Doug Bougoure admitted the Panthers “probably go in as the least favoured team” each year.
But he said strong leadership, keeping calm and maintaining teamwork helped the underdogs put together back to back wins to take home the trophy named in honour of a passed Tara local.
“We kept getting together and training, a few guys are ex-Tara people who play in the Toowoomba competition and enjoying coming back to play for their home town,” Bougoure said.
“When you put a couple of classy players in the side that we have, it makes a difference. All of our players get along and work as one. They played exceptionally well as a team on the weekend.
“Our game plan was to not push things too much, play things conservative, don’t go for the Hail Mary pass, and just grind the games out.
“It’s always nice to come away with it. When you get a group of people together and you go out to win the carnival and it happens, it’s very pleasing.
Terry Charles was a Tara local, a well known and well liked supporter of Western Downs rugby league. He died in a car accident some decades ago and the carnival is held in his memory each year.
As well as fellow coach Mick Kelly and longtime first aid assistant Paul Gunnis, Bougoure heaped praise on the Tara Panthers captain, dummy-half Cliff Purcell.
“As a captain Cliffy’s magnificent. He keeps the players calm, he doesn’t rush into things and he’s an exceptional leader,” Bougoure said.
“He’s not a big talker but he leads by example and keeps the team level headed. He’s been playing for Tara for a long time. He comes out every year. I think he’s 45 or 46 years old, and for a man his age he’s exceptionally fit.”
The Tara Panthers also expressed their appreciation to loyal club sponsor, the Tara Commercial Hotel.
It was upsets all round at the home of the Taroom-Wandoan Battlers on Saturday.
Tara firstly had to overcome the best efforts of the Chinchilla Bulldogs, who in recent weeks recorded a comfortable win and a narrow loss in trial games against Toowoomba league teams Brothers and Pittsworth.
Then the Miles Devils beat the Battlers for their spot in the final. The game went down to the wire and it was a penalty goal in extra time which gave Miles an 8-6 victory.
Miles Devils president Ken Brown said despite ultimately going down to Tara in the final, the first round win in the Terry Charles and a victory over Mitchell in a trial the previous week had given the rebuilding club a good confidence boost.
“The Battlers are an experienced team. They might be a Reserve-grade team but realistically they’ve got a few guys in the side who should be playing A-grade,” Brown said.
“We have a lot of young fellas in our Miles team so it was a good hit out for them against a more experience pack. They ground their way to the win. It was really good to show some resilience and it will be really good for them in the future.”
Miles’s last premiership came in 2013 and the Devils were also Roma competition grand finalists in 2017.
WATCH: MILES DEVILS PRE SEASON PROMO by Clancy Sinnamon / CC Donut Productions
Brown said recent years had been a promising rebuilding period, with a core group of young players showing enthusiasm for the club and the for game in general.
“We want to get everything right at the top first, in the office,” he said.
“We’re building great facilities and getting the boys a bit more equipment and promoting the game, giving the kids something to do on the weekend.
“We’re not out there playing for sheep stations but we’re just keeping this club going. We’ll chip away at it and we’ll be right, I reckon.”
Meanwhile, over at Jandowae, the home town Fishhooks fought to victory over the Dalby Diehards in the neighbouring towns’ annual preseason exhibition match on Saturday.
Despite Dalby being a consistently strong competitor in the Toowoomba competition, their games against the makeshift Fishhooks have been close on the scoreboard since the annual preseason hitout began six years ago.
Jandowae won in the the first year but the trophy has gone to Dalby ever since.
In a touch of irony, the final score in the game was 16-10, which was the same tally from Jandowae’s inaugural win in 2017.
Fishhooks spokesman Ben Davison said the club and the community was thrilled to celebrate victory once again.
“It was a very physical game and there was a lot of big hits and it was very gritty, especially in the first half,” Davison said.
“All the players were pretty buggered but we just kept going.
“All the games have been very close – last year we lost in the final minute – and because it had been song long we really wanted it this year.
“When the women won the first curtain raiser game it really got the crowd going. Everyone was on a high and we just dug in.
“The crowd hung around well after the game because they were having such a good time.
“It’s probably the biggest crowd we’ve had yet. It’s always well supported but I reckon there would have been close to a thousand people there, which would be a record.”