The Nambucca Valley Tigers Under 15s have had a massive year.
The chimera team was an experiment in combining players from the Nambucca Roosters and the Bowra Tigers to field a full side in the age division.
With dwindling player numbers in the upper age brackets of junior rugby league across the region, combining forces seems to be the natural solution to the problem.
The Nambucca Roosters players joined with Sawtell last season to create a hybrid team, but this was the first year the Tigers struggled to find the numbers in the Under 15s too.
While the team has adopted the Tigers' name and colours, Nambucca made a few stipulations to ensure they maintained their identity in the merger: the Roosters' Stu Langley combined with the Tigers' Karl Spear and young gun Jake Simpson to share the coaching role; a training session was held at Macksville and then at Nambucca Heads each week with club resources being shared around; and the team even adopted a new and neutral victory song - the NRL's West Tigers' anthem.
And while these two clubs are fierce competitors in the local derby, the Under 15s have been a shining success story of how collaboration and partnership can lift everyone.
I've been coaching these boys since the Under 10s and I can honestly say this is the most enjoyable season I've had with them.Co-coach Karl Spear
Karl said one key reason for the team's success has been that the boys have travelled as one pack all season - with a bus organised for all away games.
"Travelling together really galvanised us," Karl said.
But the bus was a tool of necessity after Group 2 and Group 3 rugby league merged their seasons together to compensate for a dearth of teams in each competition.
This meant the boys were regularly travelling as far afield as Forster, and Grafton - "they were essentially whole-day adventures".
And the journeys were rough on them.
"One day we went to Forster and we all hopped on the bus at 6.30am in Macksville and didn't get home until 5pm. We could only rustle up 13 players for that game - only the bare minimum numbers - so everyone played a full game. At one point on the trip home I turned around and all 13 kids were passed out asleep on the bus," Karl said.
But it was a fair price to pay for a strong footy competition comprised of 10 teams.
The Nambucca Valley Tigers started off shakily - with a 40-point caning by Coffs Harbour. But from the second game they collectively found their groove, and powered through nearly ten rounds without losing another game.
They were unlucky to lose the last two games of the season, meaning our boys finished up runner-up to Taree.
During the end of their season, the Tigers had to compensate for the loss of their speed in centre as Malcolm Noble jetsetted to Canada to represent Australia in international track and field meets.
But with Nambucca's Rangi Buchanan as their anchor in dummy half, and the natural-born leadership of Bowra forward Wyatt Rouse, not to mention six group representatives, they were more than ok.
The competition rounds ended on a sour note when it was revealed that Group 2 and Group 3 would not be combining for the finals competition.
With only three sides in Group 2 - Nambucca Valley, Kempsey and Coffs Harbour - the revelation was a shock to the system. One saving grace was that all three sides fielded strong teams this year.
Our boys beat out Kempsey in the major semifinal and Coffs Harbour will join them this Saturday for the grand final.
"Coffs Harbour is very big, strong and physical," Karl said. "They have four boys in their forward line who have been chosen for the representative side. They play strong, aggressive effort-based football. And while they finished the competition rounds fifth or sixth, they've finished strong - they've got a lot of momentum behind them. It's going to take a lot of heart and desire to hold them out."
"But if we can hold them in the middle and match their forwards, then we believe we have a higher level of skill in our backline, and a bit more speed on the side with Mal as centre.
These boys play no-mistake, grinding type of footy, and a lot of teams don't like that. If we can play a high completion rate footy this weekend, then I think we can come away with a win.
That might be easier said than done with finals energy running through their veins.
If they do win then there's the suggestion floating around they might play off against the winner of Group 3 - the final that should have always been.
Regardless of whether that comes to pass, next year the Tiger-Rooster combo will continue, as will the Group 2/3 merger, and they'll get their chance to reign over the entire Mid North Coast.
Wouldn't that be something.
Saturday's grand final will be played at Verges St oval in Kempsey from 1pm.