It took just a couple of minutes for Blake Ferguson to be reacquainted with bush footy.
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He didn't get his hands on the ball during the Wellington Cowboys' early attacking sets on Sunday afternoon but when a Jai Merritt bomb went up on the right edge, he led the chase.
The kick was collected by Forbes fullback Mitch Andrews and Ferguson went in hard in defence, only for the Magpies star to bounce up and immediately give the former NRL star a mouthful.
Welcome back, Fergo.
That was the first of many times Ferguson and Andrews came face-to-face and that battle was one of a number of highlights from the former Origin and Australian player's return to Kennard Park.
Ferguson was playing for his home town for the first time since 2007 on Sunday and the crowd was out in force for the occasion.
The marquee signing was only confirmed in the week leading up to the game but the news of his return to the bush spread like wildfire.
Before the matched kicked off, you wouldn't have known someone with 250 NRL appearances to their name was at the ground.
Ferguson was simply like any other Cowboy, bouncing a ball around in his hands as the reserve grade match was played out while he also spent plenty of time laughing and chatting and reacquainting himself with Kennard Park, teammates and family and friends.
One of those family members, his brother Corey Sutherland, drove Ferguson to and from the match and he barely left the fence along the Kennard Park sideline throughout the first grade game.
When the time for the Cowboys' pre-game warm-up arrived there were more than a few curious onlookers sticking their head around the corner of the grandstand to watch Ferguson in action and get any clue they could as to what role he'd play.
"Yep, he's in the number four," one older Cowboys fan said to himself more than anyone else as he watched captain-coach Justin Toomey-White put Ferguson and his teammates through their paces.
While there had been rumours and advice from people all around bush footy about where Ferguson would and should play, it was at right centre where he was placed by Toomey-White.
The excitement around the main game was briefly put on hold when an injury in reserve grade resulted in the first grade game being pushed back roughly 30 minutes.
If there was any chance the delay dulled the crowd, the hit and confrontation with Andrews shortly after kick-off certainly got supporters of both clubs into the game.
Every time Ferguson got involved the volume around 'The Graveyard' went up a notch.
Barely minutes after their first clash, Ferguson and Andrews were face-to-face again.
This time it was a tackle from Andrews which set it off, as Ferguson jumped up and hauled the Magpies star in close by the collar.
Andrews, one of the most combative players in the Peter McDonald Premiership (PMP), simply grinned back.
"I love going toe-to-toe and if you get under someone's skin, happy days," Andrews said of the duel.
"It takes a fair bit to rattle me so I go along with it.
"That's why you play, I love it. You play the game for a bit of physicality and to go toe-to-toe with someone and see how good you are."
When Andrews was shifted to centre in the second half to mark Ferguson things went up a level again.
The pair was trading barbs even when the play was on the other side of the field.
"That's what it's all about," Ferguson said, agreeing with Andrews.
"You can talk as much as you want on the field but at the end of the game you shake hands and say congratulations.
"It was good to be out there."
Andrews was moved to centre after Tom Toohey, a 22-year-old more known for his versatility than being a specialist centre, was dragged in the second half.
Toohey had been given a torrid time, with the powerful running game seen throughout a 13-year professional career proving too much for the youngster to handle.
Ferguson also never gave Toohey a chance in attack and the mismatch was proved when the returning Cowboys junior picked him up and dumped him to the ground in emphatic fashion midway through the first half.
That brought one of the biggest cheers from the Cowboys faithful but when referee Brendan Neville paused the game and put Ferguson on report for the incident, it was the Magpies fans in full voice.
We told the boys there's a couple of the best getting around in the bush here.- Forbes captain-coach Mitch Andrews
Toohey could only smile and laugh as he was asked when running out for the second half if he was winning the battle with his opposite number.
"I don't think so," he said, before adding "he's a powerful human" when discussing Ferguson.
Toohey may have been aware he didn't have the upper hand in the battle but he didn't shy away from the challenge while he was on the field, as the pre-game words of Andrews rung in his ears.
"We told the boys there's a couple of the best getting around in the bush here," Andrews said.
"With Fergo here and Toomey-White's running around and he's done a lot for Wello.
"I told the boys there is a bit of a chance to get under their skin and get into them.
"They're not on TV any more, they're running around the bush with us so if you get the chance to make a name for yourself, do it.
"It's hard to mark a bloke like that one-on-one but I thought our blokes did well.
"Fergo showed his class at times but I thought our boys didn't do too bad a job on some of their big names."
Teenage forward Mick Coady was another who didn't back down.
An under 18s player who was tipped by Andrews' fellow captain-coach Nick Greenhalgh to play a lot of first grade in 2023, Coady entered Sunday's match from the bench.
During the second half he carted the ball forward and Ferguson was up quick in defence, only to find himself on the turf as Coady bumped him off and kept going.
The noise from the Magpies crowd matched some of that which was heard during the club's three grand final wins in the past decade.
The energy from the crowd was palpable in the second half, with Andrews' move to centre - a position from which he scored a grand final-winning try for Forbes as a teenager in 2016 - and intensified duel with Ferguson only adding to the atmosphere.
The match was in the balance as the Cowboys led 18-14 after 15 minutes of the second half and that only brought more energy from the sidelines.
While Sutherland was one of only a few fans along the fans in the first half, there was barely any free space along there in the second stanza.
CYMS fullback and the PMP's leading try-scorer, Jeremy Thurston, was among those watching on while Wellington legend Mick Peachey viewed proceedings from a little further back behind the fence.
As both sides struggled for ball control and a couple of potential penalties for swinging arms were waved away, the tension in the crowd only became greater.
Ferguson, who had frustrated Forbes fans with the time he took to prepare for a conversion in the first half, was on the receiving end of most of what was hurled from the Magpies section of the crowd.
"Go back to Parramatta! Oh right, they didn't want you," was one which brought more than a few laughs from around the ground.
Ultimately, it was the Wellington fans who were the loudest at full-time as Ferguson kicked four-from-four in a 24-14 victory.
The noise of car horns around three-quarters of Kennard Park rang out while kids ran out onto the field and mobbed Ferguson.
When the time for a post-game interview arrived, he was interrupted twice as the first supporter hugged him and shouted 'Up the Cowboys!' while another was happy with a handshake.
"It was great. I'm happy to be back," Ferguson said when he got the chance.
"I love it. It's good to be back home with the family, all my cousins and good mates.
"My kids are in Sydney but this is where I grew up."
While all the focus was on Ferguson, it was opposite centre Preston Simpson who scored a crucial double in the victory.
The win meant a huge amount to the Wellington club and community.
A minute's silence was held prior to the match for Uncle Colin Hill, and a jersey belonging to the former Cowboy was on the sideline as the Wellington players ran out before kick-off.
"As we know, our community loves football and the crowd turned up for Ferg's homecoming and it was a special day," Toomey-White said post-game.
"It's amazing. We spoke about during the week, it was a special homecoming and it we knew there was going to be a lot of emotion around it but it's good get that game under his belt."
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