IT was the Friday night before a single game had even been played at the NSW Country Championships that Central West Blue Bulls colts co-coach Shane Cantrill had the feeling his team were going to be champions.
There was something about the atmosphere his squad were creating during that evening's preparations in Tamworth that told him a positive and driven team were ready to take to the park the following day.
He was right.
The Central West under 19s side - including young Forbes rugby stars Jock Moss and Patrick Tulaga - completed an unbeaten campaign across Saturday and Sunday's four Rowlands Colts Cup games in the round robin format, marking their return to the competition with a big statement to the rest of the state.
The Baby Bulls began their competition on Saturday with a crucial 16-12 win over one of teams expected to be a heavy hitter in the colts battle, Hunter.
They then rounded out the opening day with a comprehensive 24-0 win over Illawarra.
Central West returned the following morning to down Far North Coast 26-12, with Bulls number 8 Jack Webb scoring a double.
The title was then secured later in the day with a tough 10-0 success against Central Coast, as Campbell Lee found the only try of the game.
Cantrill said the mood was positive among the Central West camp well before the opening whistle had even been blown.
"It was on the Friday night that we came together that things felt good, and you really got the feeling that the boys were coming here for a reason," he said.
"I thought our scrum was strong in the last game, and our lineouts were exceptional across both games today. We pilfered the ball from both sides and won our own ball and controlled possession a lot better.
"We knew after the win against Hunter we had to continue stepping things up. The way they grew around each got better and better."
As expected, it was through the middle of the park where the Central West boys did the majority of their damage.
All four opponents needed to find plenty to keep the Bulls pack under control, and that opened opportunities up for the Central West backs when the ball came their way.
"We were pretty light on in the backs but the great thing about them was that they always did what they needed to do," Cantrill said.
"That gave us plenty of punch out wide, but I have to go back to our forwards who stood up and really gave us momentum all the way through the tournament."
This year's efforts are a huge bounce back moment for the Central West colts, who finished fifth during their last appearance in the Rowlands Cup in 2019.
Cantrill hopes this year's success is just the start of more great results in the near future for the young Bulls squad.
"Being part of this coaching staff with Stu Brisbane and Mick Wallace I think we've not only increased the boys' want to play for Central West but also their desire to hang around this program.
"We've got this real club mentality going now, and you have to take your hat off to Matt Tink and Dean Oxley for what they've done in building that up. We're a stepping stone with this colts side, and we want to see them grow into their senior side.
"They're the future of our zone the springboard towards our next senior championship."
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.