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Coghill the key in Panthers' victory

by Damien Stannard

Leigh Coghill
Leigh Coghill with the ball for the Middlemount Panthers. PHOTO: Terry Hill

Brute force, strength and aggression have made Middlemount Panther Leigh Coghill a marked man and one of the toughest in bush footy.

So, it was perhaps a touch ironic that he instead used guile to deliver the death blow to the Bluff Rabbitohs in the Panthers’ 34-22 Central Highlands Rugby League grand final win at Middlemount’s Norm Blanche Oval.

Coghill’s pack mates Mick Morris and Joe Taotofi effectively bashed the Rabbitohs into submission while a 14-point haul from goalkicking winger Matt Heidecker put valuable space between Middlemount and the determined visitors.

An epic duel between former Intrust Super Cup forward Coghill and Rabbitohs player / coach Chris Conway embodied the ferocity of the first half contest.

The pair targeted each other with full throttle runs and earth-shuddering defence before Coghill’s act of deception sucked all the oxygen from Bluff early in the second half.

Leading 12-6, the Panther took the ball close to Bluff’s line, froze the defence with a showy, one-handed carry, then kicked for himself into an unguarded in-goal to score the try that broke the visitors’ resolve.

“I’ve been doing that over and over in my backyard for years, practising thousands of times with my cousins and my mates,” the former Burleigh, Redcliffe, Ipswich and Easts forward said of his classy play.

“I was thinking about a cross kick for the winger, but got a bit selfish and I was lucky it worked.”

Coghill and Conway sent vibrations though the 1500 spectators with their collisions.

Their tempers erupted late in the first half, but by the time the officials settled the scuffle, the pair had already embraced and shook hands.

“My emotions got hold of me and I lost control a little bit,” Coghill said.

Conway, too, played down the series of confrontations, citing a need to meet the opposition’s alpha male head-on.

“He’s a good lad, wears his heart on his sleeve and is very physical and tough,” Conway said of Coghill.

“I love it, it gets me going and it’s just a friendly battle.

“We knew we had to contain him.”

Morris’ repeated charges into the middle eventually wore down the Rabbitohs’ forwards.

Coghill’s clever grubber and chase preceded three unanswered tries from the Panthers to put the outcome beyond question.

Bluff five-eighth Peter McLaughlin never stopped scheming and finished with a double.

Sixteen of the Rabbitohs’ points tumbled in the last 15 minutes, but by then, the premiership had been decided.

Halfback and coach Joel Duffy scored two tries to perhaps add closure to a career that has earned the veteran three titles in 17 years.

Duffy, centre Ryan Hansell and interchange forward Jason Randell were members of the Panthers’ 2000 premiership triumph while utility Will Davidson and centre Sam Creedon joined that trio in the 2010 title-winning side.

The win also marked a sixth CHRL grand final win for five-eighth Mitch Wyatte who won a title with Bluff in 2015.