This time 12 months ago Ethan McKellar could do little more than watch on as his Orange Hawks side prepared for a major semi-final clash.
After a barnstorming campaign with the two blues - which included a gig with Western Division and being named in the NSW Country under 23s side - McKellar injured his ankle and missed the entire second half of 2018, which included an untimely exit from the finals in last year's preliminary final against Panthers.
Nathan Potts (broken jaw) was in the same position, too, but with both on deck in 2019 Hawks are firing and head into Saturday's major semi-final against the premiers determined to make the most of another finals chance.
And McKellar is pumped to be part of it this time around.
"We play footy for this reason," the Hawks prop said after the two blues locked up the minor premiership with a final round win over CYMS.
"To get where we are now and to be minor premiers is absolutely unbelievable. We're stoked to get the week off after a big hit out with CYMS, they played fantastic.
"We'll be ready to go next game."
McKellar reeled out of a tackle with a dislocated finger in the fourth minute of the derby against CYMS but returned mid-first period to play a leading role in Hawks' 34-22 win.
"I couldn't get it back in but it's all good now," he said.
The young prop leads a Hawks pack laying the foundation for two blues stars like Willie Heta to shine but will face their toughest test of the season against Panthers next week.
McKellar says his goal is always to get one over his opposite number, a huge task against reigning Dave Scott Medalist Brent Seager.
He says together Hawks' pack can get the job done though.
"You only play as well as the people around you and to have Pottsy and the other boys in there making the tough runs it makes it easier for me," McKellar said.
"They get us on the front foot. Pottsy's excited. He's a footy fanatic more than I am, he loves it. He's raring to go."
Orange Hawks will take on Bathurst Panthers on Saturday at Wade Park, with the minor semi-finals at Mudgee on Sunday.
The Group 10 Junior Rugby League preliminary finals are at Mudgee on Saturday.
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