FINALS football - that is the target for Western NSW under 20s coach Clint Mutton given the talent he will have at his disposal for the 2021 National Premier Leagues 4 season.
While Western has not yet played a game, it is a goal that looks to be achievable given a bulk of the 2020 squad which reached the semi-final stage has returned for another tilt at NPL4 glory.
Mutton was manager of the Western under 20s outfit last season, taking on that job after the under 18s team he was set to coach withdrew in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A number of the 18s players joined the 20s squad and they finished the regular season in second with six wins, three draws and one defeat. They fell one win short of the decider with a 2-1 loss to the Camden Tigers in the semis.
"I don't think it was a surprise [to make the finals], the quality we had in the team we thought we should do well and given that we did have the top players out of 18s hang around, it just gave us a little bit more depth in the 20s too," Mutton said.
"Even though it was disappointing not to have 18s, that probably helped the under 20s squad.
"We should have a very good, competitive team again and are hoping to make the finals again. You make the finals and anything can happen."
Talented defender Riley Comerford, who has progressed through Western's junior system, will again line up in 2021 as will Orange's Aluck Athaui.
After being part of the 2019 Western under 18s, defender Joe Kocanda and midfielder Luka Ross will again represent the region and they are not the only familiar faces Mutton is keen to see in action.
"Ethan Mackay is another boy from Orange who did really well for us last year and he'll be back and Bevan Foxall from Cowra, he'll be back," the coach said.
"The two of them are really good, young, exciting players and really should be starting to make the bench for first grade this year. They are only young as well those two, they would still be eligible for 18s this year.
"They are two up-and-coming players who we are really excited to see this year."
Just as Mutton expects that duo to push for time in first grade, he nominated Ryan Campbell and Matt Beattie as two other under 20s eligible players who could earn a promotion.
"There are a couple of players who will really be pushing for a first grade spot," Mutton said.
"But that gives a chance to these other young blokes coming in to get a 20s spot. We've got a few new fellas trying out who are showing a bit of promise there.
"We are pretty good for numbers at the moment, but you always want a few more. You always think you've got enough but then injuries happen and that sort of stuff."
Western resumes pre-season training on January 12 and are aiming to have trial games each Sunday as the first grade and under 20s squads are finalised.
Western begins its season on Saturday, March 6, when the first grade and under 20s outfit play away to Granville Rage.