The Parkes Spacemen have suffered a forwards exodus during the off-season but the club remains confident it can build on its 2023 performance.
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The Spacemen were knocked out by eventual Peter McDonald Premiership (PMP) champions Dubbo CYMS in the preliminary final this year, having finished second in the Group 11 pool during the regular season.
Much of the success was down to an outstanding forward pack, but those performances didn't go unnoticed by clubs far and wide.
Group 11 player of the year and 80-minute prop Jack Buchanan was announced as the Orange CYMS captain-coach almost as soon as the season was finished and Takitau Mapapalangi and Will Wardle have followed him out the door.
Front-rower Mapapalangi is currently playing with FC Lezignan in the French top division while club favourite and representative back-rower Wardle has earned a train-and-trial deal with the Townsville Blackhawks in the Queensland Cup.
All three were among the very best players in the PMP this year and leave a gaping hole in the squad.
"Our forward stocks are down a little bit," reinstated club president Tony Dwyer said.
"So we're in the process of having a bit of a look around and seeing what's about and who wants to have a run.
"They were excellent. They'll be a big, big loss."
As disappointing as it is to lose the trio, Dwyer praised each of them and said there was some pride in helping play a role in players' progress to competitions like the Queensland Cup.
"Jack was going for 80 minutes and you don't get too many front-rowers like that who can still be going as good at the finish as what they are at the start," Dwyer said.
"Tau was really good and he's still learning. He's only 23 and early in the year he was just running around like a big kid in an underage group so he's got a heap of potential.
"And Will, you just know what you're going to get week in, week out.
"It (departures) shows that it's a good, strong comp out here and there's plenty of people floating around looking at them."
On top of the departure of the star trio, Jake Duffy is also on the move after an injury-hit long season at Parkes this year.
Recruiting players to boost the forward pack is a priority for the club and one player who would be welcomed is former Parkes premiership winner Jordan Pope.
Pope left the club for the Newcastle competition last season but change in employment means he could be available for the Spacemen at times in 2024.
There's also high hopes for Condobolin junior Toby Denyer, who signed for the club this year after time in the Newcastle Knights system, only to play two games before suffering a season-ending broken collarbone.
While there's work to be done in the forwards, much of the backline is set to stay the same.
Leading halfback Chad Porter will go again as captain-coach while Sam Dwyer will move back to Parkes after travelling back and forth from Wollongong to star for the side this year.
Jacob Smede, Joey Dwyer and Jim Dabea are among other key backs who played a key role in the team's success in 2023.
"Now they've got a taste of it," Dwyer said of the side's deep finals run.
"We were just probably two or three injuries shy of getting there this year. We had another bad run with our big fellas.
"We just had a few suspensions and little things like that.
"We've got a lot of good young fellas coming through from the under 18s so hopefully they can transition in the next couple of years and we'll be right.
"We'll snare a couple. We always do."
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