A host of Walcha Rams young players stepped up to give coach Hyde Thomson a promising glimpse into what lies ahead as they landed a grand final finish at Saturday's Armidale Blues rugby union knockout.
Down on troops and a new-look line-up, the Rams shook off a first-up loss to St Albert's College to go on and post wins against St Pat's, Sydney and Hastings Valley to book a spot against the Armidale Blues in the deciding match.
With only 14 fit players heading into the final, the Rams called upon Quirindi to fill the ranks but the Blues' depth on the day proved too strong, the host club running out 12-nil winners.
Thomson was pleased with the runners-up result and was particularly pleased with "those young fellas stepping up."
"A lot of young guys came together for the first time and it was really good," he said.
"There's been some young fellas who have been training really hard from day one and really putting their hand up to play first grade so it was terrific to see them perform.
"We played the whole day with only one or two reserves so it was a pretty good effort.
"[I am] very proud of the guys.
"Respect is one of the things I want to build within them and the club this year and keep the respect of our supporters.
"Win or lose, I think they earned that and it is what I am after."
The Central North season is three weeks away with the Rams hosting Tamworth Pirates in round one on April 4.
Thomson is hoping for a bigger effort on the training paddock before it gets underway.
"Very steady actually," he said of how pre-season preparation is going.
"We are waiting for a lot of people to turn up.
"We are hoping to really ramp things up from now on after this weekend.
"There will be a lot of regular first graders from last year, gone as well, and a lot of guys who are going to have to show up to keep their positions because young guys put in the effort at training."