The talk around the Parkes Spacemen in the lead-up to the 2023 Peter McDonald Premiership was the club had formed its best first grade side since the 2013 title-winning campaign.
The best indication of that being true came at Pioneer Oval on Saturday.
Parkes scored its first win over Dubbo CYMS since the 2013 decider to cement its status a title contender this season.
Despite a late rally from the Fishies, Parkes held on for a 40-28 victory and moved level with Dubbo CYMS at the top of the Group 11 pool ladder in the process.
Captain-coach Chad Porter is one of a handful of current Parkes players who were part of the 2013 grand final-winning outfit and he was delighted to finally knock over the perennial powerhouse again.
"That's unreal," Porter said.
"We haven't beaten them in I don't know how long so it's good to get one back on them.
"It was a big team effort. We fell apart there a little in the second half but we got the momentum back and finished strong."
CYMS had a disrupted build-up to the match and lacked some direction throughout after five-eighth Claude Gordon and hooker Alex Bonham were ruled out due to illness.
Coach Shawn Townsend said it wasn't an excuse for the poor showing, as the Fishies struggled to complete sets across the entire 80 minutes while they often went away from the game plan and played too much side-to-side footy.
CYMS was put on the back foot early in each half as Parkes shot out to an 18-0 lead inside the first 15 minutes while the lead was 36-10 just 12 minutes in the second half.
There tries in seven minutes late on gave a glimmer of hope but Townsend said his side didn't deserve anything from the match.
"Outplayed, out-enthused, out-muscled. The whole lot," Townsend said.
"It got what it deserved in the end."
Parkes' highly-regarded forward was immense throughout the match and it allowed Porter to again stamp his authority from halfback.
Prop Jack Buchanan again played the full 80 minutes while front-row partner Takitau Mapapalangi was destructive early on and played a big role in his side's dominant start.
Will Wardle bagged a double and was outstanding while Rex Yallon ran with real intent and former Queensland Cup Joe Duffy ensured his side didn't lose anything when he made his debut from the bench.
Wardle's top showing followed his man of the match performance in Group 11's recent representative win over Group 10 and the former NSW Country player said his teammates deserved plenty of credit for his current form.
"I love it," he said of being part of the current Parkes forward pack.
"It's led by 'Buchs' and Jakey Porter at hooker and it's unbelievable to have such a good forward pack.
"I feel pretty good and it's just about playing with good players."
Both Wardle and Porter praised the first-half effort of their side.
There was plenty of razzle-dazzle about the first try as the Spacemen ran it on the last and Jim Dabea eventually finished in the corner, before four-pointers for Cody Crisp and Wardle extended the lead.
CYMS scored against the run of play soon after when Parkes lost the ball while on the attack before Jyie Chapman - who produced two costly errors early - redeemed himself somewhat when he grubbered for himself to get it back to 18-10.
A rare Jeremy Thurston error close to half-time was then punished as Dabea went in for his second and made it 24-10 at the break.
There were another six tries scored in the second half - which CYMS won 18-16 - but it was the parochial Parkes fans who were celebrating with great vigour when the final whistle sounded.
"In the first half ... they would have been on our line for 15-20 minutes and they eventually cracked us but our effort there was good," Porter said.
"For us to bounce back there and score again just before half-time and get the momentum back was good."
Another thing both Porter and Wardle agreed on was Parkes can still get a lot better.
The Spacemen started the season with thumping 40-14 and 34-6 wins over Group 10 sides Orange Hawks and Bathurst Panthers respectively before a 32-28 loss to Nyngan.
Porter brothers Chad and Jake and Jake Dooley missed that match while Wardle was shifted from his usual place in the back-row to five-eighth to cover those losses.
Dooley and Dabea were hugely impressive in the backline during Saturday's win and as pleasing as it was, the captain-coach is eager to see what happens next.
"We played good and it was good to get the win but we're only going to get better as the season goes on," Porter said.
"I'm excited for that."
Townsend said his side struggled to contain Porter and the hard-running Dabea for much of the match while he lamented a completion rate well below 50 per cent.
He said there was a flicker of promise during the second-half rally but an error from the kick-off halted any momentum built.
The coach added he'll study the way his side prepared for the game in the lead-up to next weekend's Dubbo derby clash with Macquarie.
Parkes will host Wellington in what is expected to be another bumper Group 11 fixture next round.
- PARKES SPACEMEN 40 (Jim Dabea 2, Will Wardle 2, Cody Crisp, Jake Dooley, James Parsons try; Chad Porter 6 goals) defeated DUBBO CYMS 28 (Jaymn Cleary, Jyie Chapman, Tom Hughes, Ben Marlin, Jeremy Thurston tries; Thurston 4 goals)
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