BIG MOVE: Brad Dale, Thomas Patton and Gareth Hunt will all step up to senior players. PHOTO: JOHN MCCUTCHEON
BIG MOVE: Brad Dale, Thomas Patton and Gareth Hunt will all step up to senior players. PHOTO: JOHN MCCUTCHEON

Youngsters soften the loss of top Panthers

CALOUNDRA coach Russell Evans admits his side's off-season recruitment losses outweigh its gains, but is confident his teenage enforcers can fill the void.

The Panthers' ranks have been significantly eroded for the round one season opener against old foe Maroochydore on Saturday, after six experienced players left the club at the end of last season.

Alistair Mellencamp, Pat Clarke, James Cuffer and Steven Shaw are just some of the players who have moved on because of retirement and work commitments.

The club has softened the blow with the recruitment of Michael Blomeley (defender), Trent McPherson (midfielder) and Linton Congram (ruckman) from Albury-Wodonga on the NSW-Victoria border.

Congram is noted for his ferocious attack on the ball and is expected to make a significant impact on the Panthers' 2014 campaign.

Evans said although he was happy to have picked up some experienced players, he was more excited by 16-year-olds Brad Dale, Gareth Hunt, Thomas Patton and Eric Hipwood from the Caloundra juniors.

He said they had starred for the club throughout their junior playing days and he was confident they were up to the rigours of top-flight football.

"Patton was the best and fairest for the 16s last year and Eric kicked a lot of goals for them in the finals," he said.

"The challenge will be having them learn where to play in the team and the patterns and structures.

"Being young sometimes they tend to follow the ball a bit instead of sticking to the game plan, but we will give them time to develop."

Saturday's match will be the first time the clubs have played each other in eight years with the formation of the QFA Northern competition this year.

The new competition will have Noosa, Nambour, Maroochydore and Caloundra play teams from north Brisbane.

Evans said his team needed no extra motivation to fire up in the continuing of one of the oldest rivalries in Sunshine Coast sport.

"It is not only a rivalry at a senior level but a rivalry at a junior level as well and it is part of their DNA," he said.

"But looking at the season, we missed out on the finals last year and I think if we can just sneak into the semis this year, we would have had a big year."

GAME

CALOUNDRA v MAROOCHYDORE

Saturday, Caloundra, 3pm


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