UNBELIEVEABLE, unreal, stoked - they were all words that Bathurst Panthers under 13s coach Chris Coombes used to describe the feeling of seeing his young players finally enjoying success.
After tough times in previous Group 10 Junior Rugby League campaigns and some big losses early this year, the Panthers qualified for the finals in fifth then won their elimination semi-final against Orange CYMS.
That's where it ended as the season was abandoned due to the COVID-19 lockdown, but Coombes thinks his players should be very proud of what they achieved.
"I was absolutely stoked they got to play in a semi-final, the way they finished was unbelievable really," he said.
"Most of the kids have been together for a fair few years and they haven't had a lot of success, so to do what they did this year was pretty good I reckon.
"We started out in our first two games and we got beat comprehensively really. I wasn't really worried because I knew they had a lot of improvement to come, but to make the five and then beat a quality side like CYMS like we did was pretty unreal.
"I've played rugby league all my life and it's probably the most enjoyable day I've had I reckon, seeing them win down in Lithgow. CYMS are very good side and until this year they hadn't beaten them."
The victory against CYMS proved to the young Panthers that they could match it with teams who bettered them in the past and Coombes felt they could have extended their run had the finals series continued.
"They just haven't had the confidence because they've been so used to getting beat, so I think that's why we were so excited with what they did. I knew they had it in them, it was the perfect timing to bring it out," he said.
"I definitely think they would've won their next game, if everything didn't go down we would've played Lithgow in Blayney and while it's hard to say what would've happened and Lithgow are a very good side, I think they could've done it.
"So in a way I'm disappointed they didn't get to play on, but I'm also glad they finished the way they did. We didn't get beat in the semis."
While Coombes had been involved with junior teams in the past, this was his first season as a coach. He hopes it won't be his last either.
After having John and Brad Fearnley assist him this year, Coombes learned plenty and is eager to continue on with the same group of young Panthers and build on 2021.
"I think it's the best thing I've ever done, it was great," he said. "I was very lucky, John Fearnley helped out, I'm married to his sister, and Brad, he's my nephew, when he couldn't play 21s this year for Penrith, he came and helped me out.
"Brad helped out for four or five weeks and the kids just loved him, I learned a lot off him too, he's a very good young footballer
"I think they'll really improve over the next couple of years, like they're not going to win a comp over night but I think if they just keep turning up to training, there's some damn good little footballers amongst them, they'll be up there."
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