All teams in the Peter McDonald Premiership (PMP) should beware because Clay Priest is settled, determined and ready to lead his Mudgee Dragons side to the promised land.
In the inaugural PMP season, the Dragons were bundled out in the preliminary final against Dubbo CYMS with Priest watching on suspended, and the new captain-coach is hoping to go one better in 2023.
"It was obviously disappointing to go down to them the way we did ... it was pretty hard to swallow but a long season too," he said.
"You've got to be ready and on it from the get go, (in saying that) you don't win finals at the start of the year either but hopefully we can go a bit better."
Priest's appointment comes after Jack Littlejohn decided to step down due to family commitments after four years in the role.
Encouragement from his team-mates was all the front-rower needed.
"A lot of the boys pushed for me to take it on, I thought bugger it I'll do it," he said.
"I've never coached before and it'll be a new experience for me but I'm looking forward to a different challenge."
Priest first signed with Mudgee in 2020 after a 39-game career in the NRL and was originally commuting from Sydney before COVID wrecked the season.
Having permanently moved to the town at the back end of 2020, the reliable prop is now comfortable in the area and feels it's the perfect time to take on the role.
"I've definitely got to know everyone now, my family are here now ... we're pretty settled," he said.
Being a first-time coach, Priest will continue to call on the support of Littlejohn with the former Manly, Wests Tigers and Salford Red Devils half moving into a player-only role.
"He still loves playing footy, I want him there with me and I'll be able to feed off him," Priest said.
"He's a big part of the team, he always has been since he came out here and leads by example on and off the field. His resume from previous years is clear and his experience will help me."
With Priest only new to the role, the new man in charge said it'll be hard to define what excites him the most until he's properly in the mix. However, he believes it'll be interesting to see how he finds coaching and whether it'll be on the radar post-playing.
"I'm just looking forward to a new challenge. I'm getting towards the back end of my career too, maybe this might be something I might pursue for future years, I don't know," he said.
"I believe with my experience and the skills I've been taught over the years, maybe I can pass a bit of that down to the boys."
Throughout the 2022 season, it was quite clear Mudgee had become a tight-knit group.
Its 56-16 win over Orange CYMS in the final regular round showed how hard they were to stop with momentum and a strong forward pack rolling through the middle.
Priest is hoping he can keep a similar nucleus of the squad next year, but is prepared for departures.
"I hope the whole squad sticks around but out here in the bush a lot of blokes have work and family commitments and I totally respect decisions some boys make if they do or don't play," he said.
"You've just go to adjust but I'm hoping to have a similar strength side and have a good year."
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