The Dubbo region has a proud record when it comes to developing elite rugby league talent and Sunday's NRL match at Apex Oval is only going to ensure it continues.
That was the view of Dubbo District Junior Rugby League president Bernard Wilson as took in all the action between the South Sydney Rabbitohs and Canberra Raiders at Apex Oval.
A crowd of 11,124 attended Sunday's match and that crowd was up on the 10,824 which was on hand to watch a Matt Burton-inspired Penrith Panthers crush the Rabbitohs at Dubbo last year.
A huge portion of the fans at Apex Oval on Sunday were children and teenagers, many of which play locally in the Dubbo District Junior Rugby League (DDJRL) competition.
Some of them even got the chance to share the field with the NRL stars, with an under 16s match between St John's and Wellington starting the day's action at Apex Oval while under 7s teams from every DDJRL club played before the NRL match and during the half-time break.
"They've been excited all week about it," Wilson said.
"It's wonderful for them to get that opportunity and having the NRL blokes out on the edge of the field makes it even more special for them. There's some excited kids."
It was easy to feel the growing excitement around the junior footy clubs in recent weeks.
Last year marked the first time an NRL premiership match had been played at Dubbo, so Sunday's occasion and the chance to watch some of the game's very best live in the flesh and then get photos and autographs post-game wasn't lost on Wilson and all those involved.
"Everyone has been excited and it's always good having NRL out in the country," Wilson said.
"It promotes our sport and it's a good sell and Souths and Canberra have both been wonderful in their promotion of the game."
Last year Dubbo duo Isaah Yeo and Burton as long with Wellington's Brent Naden and Forbes junior Charlie Staines all helped Penrith get fans up off their feet at Apex Oval, while Coonamble's Braidon Burns was in action in the red and green of the Rabbitohs.
On Sunday, it was Orange product Jack Wighton's turn to showcase the calibre of player the Western Rams region has developed.
"We're lucky to have some great role models from this region" Wilson added.
"Kotoni Staggs and Isaah and 'Burto' just to name a few and these kids look up to them and they see a bit of a pathway and opportunity for themselves to maybe be stars one day."
There's more country talent coming through at the Rabbitohs, with former Parkes Spacemen star Ben Lovett training with the first grade squad and pushing for an NRL debut while St John's product Zac Williams played SG Ball for the foundation club this year.
Williams is part of the next generation of Western Rams products making their way up the grades with NRL clubs.
Dubbo pair Aston Warwick and Riley Wake started for Penrith in their SG Ball grand final win over the Roosters earlier this month while Lithgow's Sam Lane, Wake's CYMS teammate Fletcher Haycock, Billy Phillips of Forbes, Parkes Marist youngster Bayden Moran, and Josh Belfanti of Bathurst St Pat's were also part of the Panthers' squad.
"It's good to see the continual growth of it," Wilson said.
"The opportunity and pathway Penrith has created for a lot of boys, and other clubs too.
"We had players from the region spread across about five NRL clubs in those younger ages (this season) and you get that little opportunity.
"If they make it, great, and if not then they still got that chance to have a crack at the big time."
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