TAJ Northfield and Will McKinney are a long way from household names in the Nambucca Valley - but Lawrie McKinna, one of the biggest personas in Australian football, rates the boys and their accomplices. Big time.
When Taj, 14, and Will, 15, completed a three-peat with the North Coast side in winning the Northern NSW Premier League junior competition - none were more impressed than McKinna, a former coach of the Central Coast Mariners and the inaugural A League Coach of the Year.
To give perspective, the strong Newcastle clubs are the goliaths in Northern NSW - and it's unheard of for any outfit from outside the city to enjoy sustained success.
It's essentially the same group of boys who have moved through the age groups from 13-year-olds to now the 15s division. Will and Taj have been along for the ride all the way.
This year they finished second in the regular season, only to smash Hamilton Olympic 5-1 in the grand final. Olympic were the minor premiers and their thumping in the Big Dance was their first loss of 2019.
"Lawrie McKinna came up after the game and said it's such a feat to beat the best from Newcastle for three years in a row," Will's dad, Simon, said.
On the road to the decider, North Coast were menacing in dispatching the Jets Academy side 5-1 in the semi-final, while Olympic were made to sweat before defeating Broadmeadow Magic on penalties.
Centre back Will told the Guardian he was more than happy to face Olympic rather than Broadmeadow in the title game, as the latter took North Coast down 2-nil in the last round of the regular season.
"It was just our mentality in the grand final. We wanted to win," Will, a Year 9 student at Nambucca Heads High School, said.
Right back Taj was of a similar mind.
"I think we were just more comfortable with the occasion," the Macksville High student said.
Simon said the victory was extra special as the North Coast outfit had two keys outs this year: their leading goal scorer from 2018 had bailed on the Premier League to play club football, while "the dominant boy" from last year had moved up an age group in 2019.
Both Will and Taj are planning to chase a mind-boggling fourth straight title in the 16s next year.
Will said he is looking to build on his speed in an off-season sandwiched with cricket, while Taj also has goals.
"I'll be looking to go to the gym a bit more and just getting more touches on the ball so that it's always at my feet," Taj said.