Western Rams coach Cameron Greenhalgh knows the enormity of the task in front of him but he's heading into this weekend's opening round of the country championships "quietly confident".
The final squad for the Rams' campaign has been locked in and Greenhalgh is delighted by what he has to work with, insisting the team has "size, mobility, brains, and speed as well".
The Rams start their bid for glory against Monaro at Canberra on Sunday before a second round meeting with Greater Northern at Tamworth six days later.
"The goal is to win both games and then we might get a game in our area to show people here what we've got," Greenhalgh said.
Western, albeit with a vastly different squad, failed to win a match during last year's President's Cup and never reached the finals between 2017 and 2020 when the country championships format was under 23s.
A Rams senior side was also bundled out of the first round of the senior championships from 2013 to 2016 but despite history being against his side and two tough road trips ahead, Greenhalgh is upbeat after a number of strong training runs.
"This side has a good combination and you can feel the positivity in the team as well. It's going to be tough against Monaro but we've prepared the best we can," he said.
I'm quietly confident, to be honest. It's just the feeling I getWestern mentor Cameron Greenhalgh
"I'm quietly confident, to be honest. It's just the feeling I get.
"I've been around footy awhile and you get a feel and there's been laughter as well as the hard work at training."
One of the biggest positives for Greenhalgh is the size and power in the forward pack.
Western sides have often struggled to match other regions for physicality but with Macquarie Raiders recruits Jack Kavanagh, Oliver Gordon, and Rob Mafi joining Mudgee's Casey Burgess in this year's pack there's plenty of impact.
"In the President's Cup we were probably lacking a little size but you can't say that this time," Greenhalgh said.
"We've got four of probably the biggest guys in Western in this side. If you've got that go-forward then the boys in the halves and out wide can create opportunities.
"Kav and Ollie have been really good and have played a pretty high level and know what it's all about.
"And Rob is just a big, mobile character and he's going to be hard to handle with the lines he runs as well. Hopefully he can have an immediate impact for us."
There are 11 players from Group 11 in the 18-man squad and that contingent is headlined by a five-strong group from Macquarie.
The Raiders have gone on a huge recruitment drive in the build-up to the 2021 season and the quality is clear to see with captain-coach Alex Ronayne and utility Wade Kavanagh joining Mafi, Gordon, and Jack Kavanagh in the Western squad.
Winger Jeremy Thurston is the lone Dubbo CYMS representative in the side while Nyngan captain-coach Jeremy Smith has been named at hooker.
Forbes pair Mitch Andrews and Nick Greenhalgh will line up at fullback and five-eighth respectively.
With no trial matches played prior to this weekend, how quickly Greenhalgh and former NRL player Harry Siejka gel in the halves will be key to the side's success.
"I said to the boys it's time to stand up," Greenhalgh.
"It's not just about putting on the jersey, it's about taking responsibility."
The Rams will come together on Saturday morning and have a training run at Cowra before making the trip to Canberra.
- WESTERN RAMS: 1 Mitch Andrews, 2 Sam Simmons, 3 Jackson Brien, 4 Blake Lawson, 5 Jeremy Thurston, 6 Nick Greenhalgh, 7 Harry Siejka, 8 Jack Kavanagh, 9 Jeremy Smith, 10 Casey Burgess, 11 Bailey Hartwig, 12 Alex Ronayne, 13 Jake Betts, 14 Wade Kavanagh, 15 Jed Betts, 16 Rob Mafi, 17 Oliver Gordon, 18 Billy Carberry.
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