WHEN Josh Small made his return to the Bathurst Panthers after a year away from the game he had no idea what grade he would play or how his football would hold up.
This Sunday, following a season of constant improvement, Small finds himself as a crucial part of the Panthers premier league interchange for their Group 10 grand final against the Mudgee Dragons.
Small's flexibility and his combination of speed and size aren't easy qualities to come by in Group 10 football, and it turns out he hadn't missed a beat despite his time away from the field.
"I had a year off last year for work commitments and I came back not expecting a run in first grade. I just wanted to work my way into things," Small said.
"Doug showed some faith in me to put me in first grade and I just went out there to do the job."
But where was 'there'?
At the start of the season it was the wing, where Small still showed the pace which made him a try scoring threat in previous years.
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Then something new opened up for him.
"I had a few good games in trials and Doug said there was a spot for me on the wings if I wanted it and I accepted that with open arms," he said.
"Due to some injuries I got a run in the forwards for a while and I hadn't really played there before but it was good to get a taste of what they put themselves through. It's a whole different style of play compared to the backs.
"I left last year at about 90 kilos and came back around 110 kilos. Thankfully I've kept my pace up so I can match it with the wingers out there but with the size I can slip into the forwards.
"I even had a run at prop the other week. I just said to Doug that wherever I'm needed I'm happy to play there.
"I don't shy down from the challenge and I love being able to get in there."
Small played a couple of seasons for Villages United, picking up a New Era premiership, before making the switch.
Small was part of a brilliant Panthers junior team who terrorised their opponents in the earlier years of this decade.
He's been reunited with many members of that team and he believes the camaraderie in the squad has played a massive part in another strong season for the defending premiers.
"I played juniors with all the boys in this team and they welcomed me back with open arms," he said.
"All the relationships I had in those junior years picked back up again. I felt like I hadn't left."