Jess Hotham is excited to see how Bathurst Panthers under 18s league tag side performs in 2020

NEW FOCUS: Jess Hotham won't play for league tag for Bathurst Panthers this season, but is excited to coach the under 18s.

NEW FOCUS: Jess Hotham won't play for league tag for Bathurst Panthers this season, but is excited to coach the under 18s.

FOR a fierce league tag competitor who won't get to lace up her boots for Bathurst Panthers this year, Jess Hotham has a surprising tone of excitement in her voice when talking about 2020.

Yes Hotham is disappointed her Panthers won't get the chance to contest Group 10s open league tag premiership, but there is another group of girls in black she is involved with who will compete.

It is the under 18s Bathurst Panthers side she coaches. That is why she is excited.

"I think it is a little bit disappointing we won't play [opens], especially because this year we had had a heap of girls who said they'd try it," Hotham, who was also set to coach that outfit, said.

"It's bad timing because I had all these new girls saying 'Yeah, let's try it, let's give it go,' and now they've got to wait.

"But I've still good some fairly keen interest in that 18s age group, so I'm a bit excited about that. I've had a few that have said they'll wait until next year, which is fair enough, but a bulk of them are keen to go."

Hotham feels that the cancellation of her senior league tag commitments brings with it a positive for her 18s.

While she has agreed to help guide the under 11 Panthers league tag side in the Group 10 Junior Rugby League competition, Hotham will now be able to devote more attention to the under 18s squad.

"That is one positive, I've actually said to myself it gives me the full commitment that I can give to those girls. It was worrying me in the start having to do both, but now I don't have to juggle it," she said.

"I'm really excited because the calibre of players in this side, I'd like to see what they can do and give my full attention to them.

"I have also got my under 11s as well, but I do have people who will help me out there with that ... there are heaps of parents in that age group who can take them if they clash."

As a long-serving member of Panthers opens side - and also a player with representative experience - Hotham has seen firsthand the benefit of fostering juniors before they join the open ranks.

That is part of the reason she was delighted to see the under 18s go ahead this season.

"You like to give them as much time as you can in juniors so they are ready for that step into the opens. So I'm glad they are going ahead with the 18s, especially for the girls who haven't played before," she said.

"I have a few in that 18s side that haven't played before so I'd love to give them a taste and bit of a go before they are rolled into the opens teams. It's good for them to have that bit more growth and development in the sport.

"It's such a changing game, changing styles, you can play it more like rugby league or more like touch footy. It's such a versatile game even though it is so simple."

With a mix of returning players and newcomers - plus some of her squad only being 16-year-olds - Hotham's target for the 2020 season is to see continued improvement.

As such, she won't be looking too far ahead.

"I don't want to put too much pressure on them, so we take it game by game, we do little goals each week," she said.

"It worked last year really well, the girls started off absolutely getting flogged but by the end of it we were within one try of all the teams. Hopefully this year the theory works again."

This story Panthers tag star Hotham now has an U18 focus first appeared on Western Advocate.