LAST season Zac Taylor was an inspiration for the Bathurst Bulldogs colts, but come this Saturday it is the first XV who will draw on his talent when they begin their Blowes Cup campaign.
Taylor played in the front row for the 2019 colts side which fell one win short of a premiership - it was his extra-time try which saw them qualify for that decider - but he will line up at openside flanker in Saturday's away clash with the Dubbo Kangaroos.
Bulldogs coach Matt McRobert said he more than earned the chance to wear the number seven jumper.
"Zac was a real inspiration for our colts side last year and we've got him coming into the back row," McRobert said.
"He's just a fantastic kid and we're really happy to see him playing first grade this year. To name him in first grade was one of those really nice moments.
"With the exception of probably Scott [Johnston], Mobbsy [Justin Mobbs] and Glass [Brad Glasson], he was the first player picked, there was no conjecture about him whatsoever.
"When he got back to training it was incredible the effort he put in, he just looked like he really wanted it. It's great for someone like that to get an opportunity, he's a really good kid and great to have around the club."
Taylor's work ethic and determination is something which translates to his on-field performances. They are qualities which will be needed given the Roos are expected to have a formidable pack and be hungry to start 2020 with a win on their home turf.
"What better way to start the season than a Dubbo Roos game?," McRobert said.
"It's always a tough game, Bulldogs have a long history of very tough games against Dubbo and this one will be no different.
"Dubbo were one of the bigger packs we played against last year, right from one through to eight, they were a big, raw-boned, side. We had to play a different type of game to beat them and we did play very well when we did face them.
"But this is a new season, it brings a whole new set of challenges and new personnel, so we're looking forward to it."
Bulldogs have a long history of very tough games against Dubbo and this one will be no different.Matt McRobert
Bulldogs head into the season as the Blowes Cup defending champions. While the club would undoubtedly love to make it back-to-back top grade premierships for the first time since 1998-97, McRobert said the unique circumstances of the 2020 competition means that is not a priority.
For his side it is simply about competing each Saturday.
"For us it's just about getting back on the field, playing the game and making sure the guys enjoy themselves. I think in ordinary, regular circumstances there would have been talk about a premiership defence, but this situation has hit the game hard, hit a lot of clubs very hard, and made a lot of us have to re-evaluate or plans for the season," the coach said.
"Defending premiers - we haven't even had that conversation to be honest. It hasn't entered our planning at all, only a month ago we were very doubtful we'd have sides, we had very skinny numbers at training.
"The fact we've got so many new players - a lot of our players have retired or just due to circumstances haven't backed up this year.
"So it's a very different side, if it was the same side as took to the field last year we'd be talking about defending our title, but at the moment it's just about getting on the field and playing rugby."
Taylor is not the only new face in that 'very different side', with eight changes to the starting XV which won last season's grand final against Orange Emus.
Pre-COVID Joe Nash had trained with Bulldogs and intended to return as fullback, but as his circumstances have since changed he will not play in 2020.
But McRobert has a handy replacement for the #15 jumper.
"We've got a guy of the calibre of Phil Tonkin stepping into that role and whilst Joe was a big part of the premiership last year, Phil is a very well accomplished player," he said.
"He has won premierships, he has played for Central West, he's even been called up into Country camps over the years, so if you've got to replace Joe Nash with someone, he's a good option. Phil's also the type of player who others enjoy playing with."
While Harry 'Buzz' Webber is another player missing from the premiership winning back line, centres Adam Plummer and Will Oldham return, as does winger Ben Sheppeard and flyhalf Scott Johnston.
"Scott is backing up again. We are so indebted to Scotty, he's just a great clubman and he was a huge factor in our premiership last year," McRobert said.
"He's important not only in terms of his performances, but to show the young fellas that are coming on, to have Scott and Tonk there is huge for us, they can show the young players what it is to be a Bulldog and represent their club.
"Will had a great season last year, we think he finally found his niche at 13 which fantastic and Adam Plummer - he had a very disrupted season with injury last year and came back in the last month and really just made that number 12 jumper his own, he's a player we are looking forward to seeing grow.
"But any team that plays in a Bulldogs jersey, we always know they're going to go out and give it their best and despite the disruptions this season, it's no different."
Bulldogs will begin their season at 3.15pm on Saturday in Dubbo.
- BATHURST BULLDOGS: 1 Matt Trapp, 2 Josh Carter, 3 Sean Fogarty, 4 Justin Mobbs, 5 Sam Maher, 6 Alex Grace, 7 Zac Taylor, 8 Jaymen Carter, 9 Brad Glasson, 10 Scott Johnston, 11 Ben Sheppeard, 12 Adam Plummer, 13 Will Oldham, 14 Riley Hanrahan, 15 Phil Tonkin.