THE Black and White Panthers league tag side is more than ready to shoulder the hopes of an entire city on Group 20 grand final day, skipper Shailyn Williams says.
As the only Griffith side in any grade with a shot at the ultimate glory this season, the Panthers will head into Sunday’s decider against West Wyalong at near full-strength and with an army of barrackers in their corner.
Not all of them will be Black and Whites diehards, either – the side has enjoyed additional support from fans of rival clubs over the course of their march from third on the ladder Sunday’s showdown for silverware, and they will go into the match as sentimental favourites.
“It’s made a big difference, the support,” Williams said.
“We haven’t been in a grand final for a few years and to actually get here is almost overwhelming – it’s a credit to our team and supporters.
“We’ve been flying the flag for our club all year round ... if we were to win it, it would be unexplainable.”
But while at times the Panthers’ story has felt like a fairytale – no more so than in last week’s stunning preliminary final win over competition powerhouse Leeton – it has been fuelled by tragedy.
The recent passing of club great “Mum” Cerna Toga shook the Black and Whites family to the ground.
The side played their grand final opponents just days after she lost her brave fight with breast cancer, and Williams said the 11-4 semi-final loss was directly attributable to their emotional state.
Now, however, it is a different story.
“We weren’t with it in West Wyalong. Emotions were extremely high, it got to us,” Williams said.
“But we are where we are because of what happened and because we have been able to use it to our strength.”
Supporters are once again encouraged to wear pink on Sunday, as the Black and Whites have done since Toga’s passing.
Williams also revealed first grade coach Craig Hannon, Craig O’Keefe and a number of other club veterans have served as another partial source of “inspiration”.
“They’ve played football at this level, they’ve been talking to us all season – but around finals time it’s even better,” she said. “They told us to keep our heads clear and take it as it comes, and that’s what we’ve been doing.
“We know it’s a big occasion but everyone is just staying calm, we’ve stuck to our routine and prepared well. Leeton was our big hurdle, but this is a new one and a new challenge.
“We’ve got to enjoy the week because they don’t come around too often.”
The Black and Whites will be without star player Ruby Leao-Seve due to her representative rugby union commitments, but will otherwise go in with a first-choice line-up.