Wellington captain-coach Justin Toomey-White is backing some of the club's rising stars to step into the void left after the departure of Blake Ferguson.
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Former Australia and NSW representative Ferguson was a huge hit in his return to the Cowboys this year but won't return after signing a deal with Newcastle club Kurri Kurri.
The Cowboys had been hopeful of retaining Ferguson's services - he'd admitted during the finals series he was open to sticking around - but Toomey-White said there was no bad blood after his departure.
"It's going to be hard to see him go," the captain-coach said.
"It wasn't just 'Fergo' on a Sunday afternoon doing his brilliance. It was Tuesdays and Thursdays coming down to junior league and having his presence here with the kids.
"He's going to be a big loss for the club, and for the town, but we're grateful that he's been able to come home and put that maroon and white jersey he wore before leaving 16 years ago to pursue his NRL career.
"We wish him and his family all the best and hopefully we'll see him throughout the year back at a Cowboys game."
Ferguson arrived home at the Cowboys ahead of round four this year and the powerhouse centre went on to finish third in the try-scoring charts for the competition.
He helped the Cowboys to the second week of finals - where they were knocked out by the Parkes Spacemen - and that was a massive improvement after the side recorded just one win and finished with the wooden spoon in 2022.
"Now it's an opportunity for one of the boys that have learnt from him to put their hand up and make that right centre position their own," Toomey-White said.
"It would have been great for him (Ferguson) to be here but it's onto bigger and better things for himself.
"I'll support him for everything that he does."
While the loss of Ferguson is a huge blow for Wellington, Toomey-White is determined to build on this year's work after being confirmed as captain-coach again.
The Cowboys were far from a one-man team in 2023 with five-time Group 11 Player of the Year Toomey-White again leading from the front while teenage fullback Tyrone Tattersall took his game to new heights, halves Rylee Blackhall and Jai Merritt developed a fine combination and players like Brock Naden and Mac Dutfield were as reliable as ever.
Naden has previously been a representative centre and could return to that position next season after Ferguson's move away while Preston Simpson, Brian Baxter and Timmy Boney-Stewart all performed well in the backline this year.
"It's a privilege to lead the Cowboys and hopefully we build on the great work that we've done this year," Toomey-White said.
"That's not gonna be the be all and end all. We've set ourselves a standard now and hopefully all the other grades follow what the boys have done in first grade."
The positive mood around the Cowboys after the leap made in 2023 went to another level this week when Squadron Energy came onboard as a major sponsor.
After the difficulties of season 2022, the deal provides the club with stability and allows them to focus on more pressing matters like forming an under 18 side for 2024.
The club has promised they will field an under 18s team next year after not doing so for the past two years.
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