ST Pat's halfback Cooper Neilson has a good feeling about 2021 and given his side ran in 34 unanswered second half points against Orange CYMS in their Western under 21s season opener, it's easy to see why.
Once the Saints clicked into gear at Jack Arrow Oval on Friday night they were simply too good for CYMS, coming from a four-point half-time deficit to win the match 38-8.
"This year is the year hey," Neilson, who captained the 21s, enthused.
"It was unreal. They are a really good bunch of boys and we only got together a couple of weeks ago.
"The boys are fit too, everyone is coming to training, they are rocking up on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then to put that effort in on Friday was unreal.
"You've got to get in that grind and it just clicks in the end. Once the boys just gelled together and know what everyone is doing and the structure we've got to play - it was good."
Neilson made the move from Group 11 club Parkes to join the Saints in 2019, playing in both first division and premier league that year.
Last season he was a member of the first division outfit that made the final of the Bathurst Panthers Knockout, but that was the last game time he saw in blue and white as COVID-19 forced the cancellation of senior Group 10 competitions.
But now league is back and the new five-round Western under 21s pre-season competition is one the Saints are hungry to win.
It's something that Orange CYMS second-rower Patrick Duggan thinks they are capable of.
"They should be the standard, they've got a gun side. They are intense and physical straight off the bat," he said.
"They're just guns, there are a lot of new faces, the two boys from Forbes, the Mawhinneys [Aaron and Kyle], they're both handy."
It was CYMS who struck first in the opening 30-minute half on Friday night, gifted possession deep in Saints territory after fullback Sione Naufahu lost the ball returning a kick.
CYMS spread the ball to their left edge - an area they focussed much of their attack in the opening half - and Sam Murphy dived over in the corner.
The reply was quick in coming and again it was an error which created opportunity. This time CYMS hooker Sam Warner knocked-on when trying to quickly play the ball, a mistake the Saints punished when Adam Booth won the race to ground a Kyle Mawhinney grubber which rolled into the in goal area.
That squared it up at 4-all but the errors - and the points - kept coming. Pat's turned over the ball off the kick-off and CYMS launched a blindside attack which led to Jai Wilcox crossing.
Both sides had their chances after that - CYMS fullback Cooper Monk denied a try due to off-side while Pat's went over in the left corner only to have play called back due to a forward pass.
It meant CYMS went to the break with an 8-4 lead.
But the second half was a much different story. The Saints cut down their errors, their new combinations clicked and they brought plenty of aggression in defence.
It took just 58 seconds, after CYMS knocked on from the kick-off, for centre Bailey Akroyd to put the Saints on level terms at 8-all.
By the time the side's had their two-minute drink break in the 45th minute, the Saints had shot out to a 24-8 lead.
Kyle Mawhinney had scored his first try in blue and white after selling CYMS' defence on a dummy, Akroyd muscled over for his second after an excellent chase from Neilson and Tye Siakisoni forced a line drop-out, while both Nick Barlow and Cooper Earsman got on the board as well.
From there the Saints went on with the job. Akroyd set up Booth's second after pulling off a crunching tackle on halfway which forced the ball loose - it was a shot that certainly impressed his captain.
"How good is he? I thought he was a front rower at training but as soon as he gets in the centres - he was awesome. We've just got to get him more ball," Neilson said.
The win was sealed five minutes from time with a Jackson Duff try, but it was the way the Saints squad performed as a whole in the second half - bench players like Aiden Stait, Cooper Nunan and Josh Hanrahan bringing aggression when injected - that was behind the success.
Duggan, who along with lock Joe Hobby and halfback Josh Board tried hard to spark CYMS, admits consistency and fitness are two areas in which they will need to improve.
But the prospect of testing themselves against Group 11 and Woodbridge Cup players plus more faces to come into the squad have the second-rower excited about what lies ahead.
"it was tough, we've only had two sessions together so our chat sort of fell away towards the end. We played some good football in patches, definitely at the start we were good, just that chat fell away," Duggan said.
"They effort was there, we're not the fittest bunch and I'll be the first to admit I'm not in the best shape, but it will come.
"We've got a few handy players coming back and have a few more on the bench next week, so we should be better.
"I've never played against any Dubbo side before, so it will be good to go and see what else is out there and gauge your own playing ability against the rest of the area."
ST PAT'S 38 (Adam Booth 2, Bailey Akroyd 2, Jackson Duff, Kyle Mawhinney, Nick Barlow, Cooper Earsman tries; Cooper Earsman 2, Cooper Neilson goals) defeated ORANGE CYMS 8 (Sam Murphy, Jai Wilcox tries)
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