There was a point in the build-up to the 2021 season when Finnley Neilsen thought he might be playing in Sydney.
But now he's staying at home and he's eager to make the most of one more chance with the Western Rams.
A standout junior for Parkes and the Rams for a number of years, Neilsen linked with the Canterbury Bulldogs in early 2019 and was expected to make the move to the city once he finished year 12 last year.
But then COVID hit, changing rugby league schedules and programs and making travel difficult so the powerful second-rower is staying home for another year.
"They were quite happy for me to stay out here one more year and I'm happy with that too," he said.
"I get to stay with my mates and it should be a bit of a better year.
Despite his success and representative honours - Neilsen has also played for NSW Country - he's yet to win a regional title with Western.
But the 2020 campaign began well last weekend as Neilsen and his under 18s teammates defeated the Greater Southern Illawarra Dragons in the opening round of the Laurie Daley Cup.
This weekend the side heads to Leeton for a meeting with the Riverina Bulls.
"It was great to get the win first-up," Neilsen said.
"I think we went a bit better than expected but there's still a bit to work on.
"We could probably play a bit more eyes-up footy and have a look either side of the ruck but there's not too much (that needs to change). Maybe a bit more talk, too."
That talk and leadership is something Neilsen is eager to provide.
A player who leads by example, the Parkes Spacemen junior was among the try-scorers in last week's win over the Dragons and he will again partner Dubbo CYMS' Riley Wake in the second-row on Sunday at Leeton.
"A bit more energy," he said of what he wants to bring to the side.
"That's something I could work on, too. Just bringing it around the boys and when they need a lift try to be the one who brings it.
"I try to bring my few ideas and things I've learnt a long the way and implement them with everyone else."
The Rams will prepare for Sunday's meeting with the Bulls by having a two-hour training run at Cowra on Saturday before making the trip to the Riverina together.
Coach Kurt Hancock has shuffled the team slightly ahead of Sunday, with CYMS' Zac Williams reverting to the centres from lock in place of Lachlan Lawson while Billy Phillips will take the number 13 jersey.
Western ran in seven tries against Riverina in a trial match early last month at Forbes but Neilsen, and no doubt Hancock, are keen to forget that result and keep Sunday as its own challenge.
"You just never know in junior footy so you've got to keep your eyes open," Neilsen said.
Kick-off is 11.20am at Leeton Sportsground on Sunday.
The Rams under 16s take on Riverina in the Andrew Johns Cup prior to that at 10am.
- WESTERN RAMS: 1 Samuel Lane, 2 Darcy Leadbitter, 3 David West, 18 Zac Williams, 5 Nathan Walker, 6 Braye Porter (c), 7 Cooper Egan, 8 Jesse Shorter, 9 Fletcher Haycock, 10 Bill Statham, 11 Riley Wake, 12 Finnley Neilsen, 13 Billy Phillips, 14 Mitchell Cleary, 15 Cooper Ferrari, 16 Jia Siakisoni, 17 Tobias Miller, 19 Jamie Thorpe, 20 Lachlan Lawson.