TOM Hooper's maiden season in the top flight of the John Dent Cup may have fallen just short of a premiership, but the performances of the Bathurst rugby talent were certainly something to be proud of.
After a stellar 2019 campaign with the Tuggeranong Vikings' colts side, the lock earned promotion to the first grade ranks for this season.
It was a step up, but one he handled as he was voted joint players' player.
"I got joint player's player with a bloke called Michael Oakman-Hunt and he also got player of the year, so it was pretty humbling to tie that award with him, he's a really quality player," Hooper said.
"It's also awesome as far as the award goes because it's voted on by my fellow players. Being my first year in first grade, it was a real honour my fellow players voted for me week-in and week-out to get me over the line for that award.
"You always chase the approval of your coaches, but to get the approval of your team-mates makes it a special one."
After the start of the season was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Vikings began their campaign in impressive fashion with a 45-7 win over Queanbeyan Whites in July.
But then came the news which had Hooper thinking that one game in first grade with the Vikings would be it for the season.
"There was a stage there in our second round and one of the Queanbeyan guys we'd versed, one of their support staff, tested posted to COVID so we thought we were going to get shut down," Hooper said.
"Myself and the likes of Jed Englert and Harper Kemp and Hunter Davis, like all Bathurst boys, we were all talking about coming back and playing for Bathurst Bulldogs.
"Luckily the comp here stayed running, but we'd half convinced ourselves we were going to be playing in Bathurst for the rest of the season.
"It was still a wonderful season although we played less games and didn't quite get the amount of rugby that we usually get, it was still quality rugby that we were getting."
The Vikings won eight of their 10 round games to claim the minor premiership, but under the shortened season format they then faced a sudden-death semi-final against the Gungahlin Eagles.
Hooper scored for the Vikings, but it was to be their only try in a match the Eagles won 17-10.
While Hooper and his team-mates were disappointed not to have gone all the way, they knew they were beaten by a quality outfit.
"I think we were definitely favourites going into the finals, but once the Brumbies contingent came back into other teams, it was a totally different kettle of fish, it changed the landscape of it so much," Hooper said.
"You know Gungahlin the team we lost to in the semi-final had the likes of Matt Giteau and Mac Hansen. They had quality, young Brumbies players mixed with 103 Test cap Wallabies, so we weren't licking our wounds too much. It was obviously disappointing not to go the whole way, but back to the drawing board I guess."