If you asked Jack Hartwig a week ago whether the Western Rams were ready for the start of the Laurie Daley Cup he might have been a little bit unsure.
The Rams, after losing last year's regional NSW titles under 18s grand final, hadn't had as much time together in the off-season as they would have liked.
But then came last weekend's camp at Lake Burrendong.
Hartwig's under 18s side was joined by the Western under 16s outfit for two days of intense training.
Not only did the combinations develop but so did the bonds between the new-look sides ahead of Saturday's opening round hit-out with Riverina.
"It was a very tough weekend and it was a big one but that's what brings the boys together. And that's what we did," Hartwig, who will captain Western on Saturday, said.
"I reckon it's [the side] really good. There's not been as many sessions but the camp really brought us together.
"I reckon we'll give this a shake."
Barnstorming back-rower Hartwig is one of a handful of players, including Dubbo CYMS' Noah Ryan and Wellington livewire Elijah Colliss, returning after being part of the under 18s' run to the decider last season.
A strong group of graduating under 16s players also links up with the side.
Hartwig, so often part of the young brigade in representatives teams or with his hometown Forbes Magpies, is eager to take on the role of captain.
"I've always looked up to the older boys but now I'm one of them," he said.
"We've got a few of the older boys who will step up and lead the way for the younger ones and show them what to do when they're older."
Keeping Western's strong record in the Laurie Daley Cup alive adds further motivation.
The Rams may have lost last season's grand final to the Illawarra South Coast Dragons but multiple titles have been won in the past while a huge number of Western juniors have earned NSW Country jerseys in recent times.
Hartwig was one of the eight Western under 18s players selected Country's tour of the United Kingdom last season and he said everyone was who part of that experience took a huge amount from it.
"It's always a good feeling to run out with the green and white on and we're really looking forward to it," he said, looking at this season's campaign.
"It is a big deal to go well and give the competition a shake."
The competition starts at Hartwig's home ground, Spooner Oval, on Saturday evening against Riverina.
There will no doubt be some signs of rust from both sides but the Rams captain insists the opening period of the match will go a long way to deciding the result.
"We need to start well. If we do that and get some momentum and get forward then we'll be hard to pull up," he said.
"No slow starts and we should be right. Riverina will be handy and a challenge so we've got to start well."
Kick-off at Forbes' Spooner Oval is 6.20pm on Saturday.
- WESTERN RAMS UNDER 18s: 1. Braye Porter (Dubbo CYMS), 2. Cody Lawson (Mudgee Dragons), 3. Noah Ryan (Dubbo CYMS), 4. Mason Pollack (Orange Hawks), 5. Cooper Monk (Orange CYMS), 6. Jack Cole (Orange CYMS), 7. Cooper Egan (Lithgow Workies), 8. Lachlan Large (Bathurst Panthers), 9. Elijah Colliss (Wellington Cowboys), 10. Tom Phillips (Forbes Magpies), 11. Jack Hartwig (Forbes Magpies) (c), 12. Cody Crisp (Parkes Spacemen), 13. Finnley Neilsen (Parkes Spacemen), 14. Joe Yeo (Dubbo CYMS), 15. Matt Noakes (Forbes Magpies), 16. Cody Kelso (Orange CYMS), 17. Charlie Hollman (Forbes Magpies), 18. Marlin Pollack (Orange Hawks). Coach: Kurt Hancock.