Better times ahead for rebuilding clubs
There wasn't much to play for at Wade Park on Saturday. Orange CYMS was guaranteed the wooden spoon after a horror year in which they struggled for numbers almost every week, while Lithgow was one spot above them and no chance of playing finals.
When the two meet next season, you feel that won't be the case.
Lithgow has already made a number of strides forward this season. Exciting young players like Cooper Egan working alongside tough and experienced campaigners like captain-coach Jack Sullivan provides reason to be optimistic about the club. Sullivan has been well-spoken all season when it comes to his side's progress and it was no different on Saturday after the 32-12 win at Orange as he said it's just about continual development and a stronger culture around training and competing.
It feels like that continued development and just one or two major signings and Lithgow will be a real finals threat.
For CYMS, things simply can't be worse in 2024. The proud club is already working behind the scenes, with Rhys Draper locked in to return after a stint in Newcastle while there's strong mail a star player at a rival PMP club this season could be leading those in green and gold next year. Watch this space.
Costly outing for Saints
Nothing went right for Bathurst St Pat's on Sunday afternoon at Wade Park. Not only did they lose a chance at second bite of the cherry come finals, a Bathurst Panthers win over Mudgee Dragons sees them drop to fourth.
Throw in a Willie Wright send off and verbal stoush with the Hawks crowd, Noah Griffiths being placed on report and a couple of nasty head clashes and Pat's are in the wars. All this after they lost reigning Group 10 player of the year Hayden Bolam to a season-ending knee injury last month.
On the bright side their reserve grade team is still alive and will provide some handy extra troops should the need arise.
Cowboys and Tigers complete turnaround
Last year the struggling Wellington Cowboys scored just one win and that victory came against a Nyngan Tigers side which collapsed late in the season due to injuries, player suspension and a struggle for numbers.
After that match, Cowboys coach Justin Toomey-White spoke to the Nyngan players of how he and his club also knew of extremely hard times and how better days can be ahead if you just put the work in.
Fast forward 12 months and how things have changed. Both the Cowboys and Tigers will play in the finals this season after hugely impressively turnarounds.
The pair both won during Sunday's final round. The Tigers scored a confidence-boosting win over Dubbo CYMS while Wellington was too good for Macquarie.
Both sides play elimination finals next weekend with the Cowboys hosting Bathurst St Pat's while the Tigers are on the road to play Bathurst Panthers.
Project Rodney results clear to see
There was plenty of excitement around Orange Hawks when it was announced former NRL premiership winner Shane Rodney would be coaching the club.
His first season at the helm wasn't what everyone at the club wanted as Hawks missed the 2022 finals but sometimes these things take time.
Twelve months later, Hawks have finished second in the Group 10 pool and are playing their best footy when it matters.
The stats show Rodney has improved both sides of Hawks' game. Last year they scored 240 points and conceded 317. This season it's basically switched with 312 scored and 270 conceded while the coach has also helped develop young players like Ryan Manning and Lachie Lawson.
Hawks won just one of their first four games this season and didn't score more than 18 points until round six. That matters little now and they will head to Dubbo next week no doubt confident they can cause a shock and defeat Group 11 minor premiers CYMS.
Big guns take it easy
A round in which Dubbo CYMS, Mudgee and Parkes all lose would normally be major news, but there were circumstances worth noting on Sunday.
All three lost on Sunday, with CYMS going down at Nyngan while Mudgee was beaten by Bathurst Panthers and Parkes fell to Forbes in a final round derby.
CYMS and Mudgee had already won their respective pool minor premierships while Parkes was locked in to finish second behind the Fishies.
Key players like Jarryn Powyer, Alex Bonham and Claude Gordon didn't play for CYMS on Sunday while Parkes captain-coach Chad Porter rested himself at Forbes.
Mudgee, it's worth noting, was virtually full strength but was without player-coach Clay Priest, who was suspended for the remainder of the 2023 season after a nasty high shot a week prior.
Expect all three sides to be back firing next weekend when finals kick off.
ROUND 15 RESULTS
Lithgow Workies Wolves 32 defeated Orange CYMS 12
Wellington Cowboys 24 defeated Macquarie Raiders 22
Bathurst Panthers 20 defeated Mudgee Dragons 12
Orange Hawks 16 defeated Bathurst St Pat's 4
Nyngan Tigers 22 defeated Dubbo CYMS 14
Forbes Magpies 16 defeated Parkes Spacemen 10
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