Given the confidence and the quality at the Mudgee Dragons, the expectation among the players was they would be playing in the Peter McDonald Premiership grand final this year.
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It wasn't the case for Hudson Brown.
Not because he doesn't have faith in his beloved red and white, but because the rangy back-rower didn't expect to be playing for the Dragons at all in 2023.
Even midway through this season the idea of him running out for Mudgee was unlikely.
A Dragons junior, Brown started the season at Penrith and played in their SG Ball under 18s squad before being promoted to the Jersey Flegg under 21s side.
Game time was hard to find in the older age group so he was given an exemption to return home and he made his Dragons return in the penultimate round of the regular season.
His return has been a timely one given the season-ending suspension for player-coach and former NRL forward Clay Priest, and the chance to play in his first senior grand final is something he can't wait for.
"They don't come around often so it's pretty good to play one for my home town," Brown said.
"I didn't think of it (coming home) but when the opportunity came I jumped on it. I didn't think it would happen."
Brown has made a real impact off the bench since returning to the Dragons, and scored a crucial second half try last weekend as the Dragons fought back to defeat Orange Hawks in the preliminary final.
That set-up a grand final clash with Dubbo CYMS, the side that knocked them out at the preliminary final stage last year.
Brown, in his first full year of senior footy, was part of the side that was beaten that day but he's confident the result can be reversed at Apex Oval on Sunday.
"They're just another country footy side," Brown said.
"We've got the side to do it so there's no reason why we can't."
If Brown didn't already have enough motivation to get one over CYMS on Sunday, the fact he won't be returning home to Mudgee anywhere near as often from next year is another.
While he's been in the Penrith system, the former Western Rams junior will soon link with the Melbourne Storm.
He's going to spend the 2024 pre-season with the club's NRL side, learning from coach Craig Bellamy and some of the game's biggest names, before playing in the under 21s again.
"I can't wait," he said.
"Opportunities like that don't come around too often either so I'll take it when I can.
"They're one of the best system in the world so I'm really excited for it."
The unexpected chance to be around family and friends more often this year is something Brown has savoured, with best mate David West also part of the Dragons first grade side.
Brown has been travelling back from Sydney each Friday to make Dragons training before weekend, and as gruelling as that might sound it's been anything but.
"I've loved it. I get to be around all my mates and family," he said.
"I'll enjoy it all while I can, I won't be back as much when I head to Melbourne."
The prospect of pre-season with the Storm's NRL squad may be daunting, but Brown has built a strong foundation while working at the Dragons under former NRL players Priest and Jack Littlejohn.
Priest is one of the very best forwards in the western area while Littlejohn's influence at Mudgee has only grown as the season has gone on and the experience the pair shares at the club is invaluable.
"They're unreal. Just with everything they do off and on the field," Brown said.
"They're people I really look up to, being one of the young fellas out there. They give you a lot of drive and motivation to go somewhere. It's pretty awesome."
Sunday's grand final is scheduled to kick-off at 3pm at Dubbo's Apex Oval.
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