Wellington Cowboys captain-coach Justin Toomey-White has paid tribute to two of his 2019 Group 11 premiership winners after it was confirmed they won't be back at the club this year.
Former NRL player and 2019 grand final Bob Weir medallist Travis Waddell departed the club for Goondiwindi prior to Christmas but it was just last week prop Dave Dryden announced he wouldn't be back for the new season.
Both players were vital to the Cowboys' drought-breaking premiership success in 2019 and were both set to return to the field last year but the season was cancelled due to COVID-19 pandemic.
"They were massive. They played a major role on and off the field in 2019," Toomey-White said of the pair.
"They were a part of something that hadn't been done in 25 years so they're going to be remembered as Cowboys.
"The leadership and influence they had on and off the field was instilled in the younger fellas and everyone, really."
Toomey-White admitted it was a tough conversation to have with Dryden last week but the prop is staying at home in Newcastle for family reasons so the captain-coach said he completely accepted the decision.
While the Cowboys side which takes on Forbes in the round one of the new season in the first weekend in May will look vastly different to the one which won the 2019 grand final, the hunger for success remains just as strong.
Toomey-White's men were determined to defend their crown last year before all play was abandoned but that desire still burns within the playing group.
"There's a lot of motivation at training. The trophy is still here in Wello and there's a new 2021 badge on there with no name on it," Toomey-White said.
"Our mindset is to play football in September but it's about what we do between now and then."
While there's been departures, the strong core group of locals remains and a number of new faces have also signed on.
Jesse Wighton will line up this year after agreeing to join from Forbes before last season, while Dubbo CYMS duo Harry Kempston and Corey Cox have also made the move to Wellington.
Both were part of the CYMS side which was beaten by Wellington in the 2019 grand final, with Cox in particular a vital part of the Fishies' run to the decider that year.
Powerful forward Colt Ure has also signed on from Macquarie and EJ Fernando will wear maroon this year as well, while Toomey-White is keen to see Derrick Peachey represent the Cowboys as well.
"They're training and adapting well to what we're building. They're great addition and we're just looking forward to playing," the captain-coach said, before touching on Peachey.
"He's confirmed he's going to travel from Sydney and play for us. He plays in the middle and is really agile on his feet and has played in a few knockouts for Nanima with us and has family ties here at home."
The Cowboys are almost two months into their pre-season but there has already been one major highlight.
The men's side finished as winners at the Bathurst Nines last month, adding to the positive feel around the club.
"It was the perfect opportunity to get back out there and throw the ball around and to win was a bonus," Toomey-White said.
"Not a lot of the senior players were available so it was good to get some of those younger players out there. It's their first year out of the 18s and we know we can call on them if needed.
"The vibe is awesome. We're six weeks in and we're getting good numbers for the senior squad."
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