Justin Toomey-White cut a dejected figure on Sunday afternoon.
As his Cowboys scored what was just a consolation try in the final minute of the elimination semi-final clash with Parkes the captain-coach's head dropped, the realisation his side's season was over sinking in.
He was the last Wellington player to leave the field after spending time with his wife and kids and then he slowly limped back to the sheds to talk to his team.
"It was tough talking to the boys," he said after the 36-26 defeat.
As much as the Cowboys have achieved this year, Sunday's result was hard to take.
The Spacemen blew them off the park early on and raced out to a 22-0 lead in the first half hour.
The Cowboys never gave up and got back with eight at one point in the second half, but it wasn't to be as the hosts won by 10 points.
The result brought the curtain down on what was a special season for the Cowboys and as disappointed as Toomey-White was, he was aware of that.
"We've always had belief in ourselves. The boys have worked hard and we've got some respect back," he said.
Much has been said about their 2022 campaign, when the club struggled to pay for jerseys due to lost sponsors while the first grade side collected the wooden spoon after just one win.
For many outside the club, more of the same was expected when the 2023 season kicked off.
But the club has been rejuvenated this year, with a new committee working hard to improve the Cowboys' standing on and off the field while the first grade side finished third in the Group 11 pool, with local juniors impressing alongside returning star Blake Ferguson.
Ferguson stole a lot of the headlines as he returned to his junior club after a professional career which included NSW and Australian selection, but he was just one of the many people who made the year what it was, according to Toomey-White.
"I'm very proud of the boys. I'm proud of the club," an emotional Toomey-White said.
"We've proved a few people wrong. We didn't set out to do that, we knew what we had internally and this is just the start."
After winning nine of 14 regular season games, Wellington knocked out Bathurst St Pat's in the opening week of finals before suffering the defeat at Parkes.
Errors and penalties in the first half were lamented at full-time, but Toomey-White was quick to look ahead.
The Cowboys didn't field an under 18s side this year and the club's reserve grade side missed finals, but the league tag outfit showed glimpses of real quality and only just missed out on playing in the post-season.
"We've got some good young boys and young girls in league tag and we'll get an under 18s next year so we've just got keep moving forward and being positive," he said.
"It's hard to lose like that but there's some positives for us. The boys enjoyed the season and they'll enjoy the off-season and then we're back to the drawing board."
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