Ricky Whitton is captain coach of Eugowra's Golden Eagles for 2023, and there's much, much more than his team's Woodbridge Cup campaign on his heart as he prepares for the rugby league season.
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The town of Eugowra has lost a lot. Buildings, homes and two beloved community members. But it hasn't lost its identity.
It's a town known for its fighting spirit, made famous by the Eugowra side of the 1960s that won five Group 11 first division premierships from 1963 to 1967.
While success was a guarantee back then, it won't be a major sticking point this season in Woodbridge Cup.
Simply because this season is about more than rugby league, it's about bringing a grief-stricken community together and providing a release from the damage that surrounds them.
"We've had players and families impacted with what happened," Whitton said.
"Not just (players) from here, boys that have become a part of the family at the club from Parkes, Forbes and Orange.
"They were the first ones on scene the day after everything happened to help out where they could, it just shows the passion that they have for the town."
Metres away from Ian Walsh Football Field sits the Mandagery Creek.
It's this creek that exceeded the major flood level on November 14, changing the lives of Eugowra's residents forever.
When flood inundated the field and its nearby pre-school, it left little.
The goal posts were gone, fencing removed and lights damaged or left behind.
Even the Golden Eagles' shipping container didn't survive, which currently sits in the creek awaiting for NSW Fisheries to make the next step.
Whitton explained the flood essentially ripped apart all the club's assets.
"Pretty much everything (is gone), there's some stuff we can salvage from the old sheds but the container is down the road somewhere in the creek - the field's goal posts and fence lines are all gone," he said.
"When we kick off our pre-season this coming Tuesday, we're pretty much just going to have what we've got in our cars to bring us together and do what we can do."
What's come with the devastation though, is the quality Australian spirit we all know and love.
That when the chips are down, mates help mates, and even strangers help strangers.
So it's no surprise how much assistance has come for Eugowra.
Whether it be from Cabonne Council, New South Wales Rugby League, rival Woodbridge clubs and other bush footy clubs along with NRL clubs and former players like Sam Williams.
Businesses have also come on board, with Everything Sports in Gosford offering up gear while local and out of town sponsors are helping the cause.
"It's been unbelievable," Whitton said.
"Not just on the footy side of things, when everything happened they (rival clubs) were the first ones to come and help out families ... cleaning up and doing all those little things.
"New sponsors and new people are wanting to become part of the club, it's a slow process so we're all moving forward.
"In town we have our major sponsors like Gundamain and Moxey's and we do have new ones from Parkes and Forbes and all around, just businesses doing what they can."
While Whitton will look to lead a group of men on the football field, he's had to deal with his own difficulties.
He, his partner Casey Jones - president of the Golden Eagles - and daughter Korra are all currently living at the Eugowra Showground due to their home being damaged by the flood.
It was a horrible few hours for the family on that fatal Monday.
When Whitton went to move his car, the water had risen so high in a matter of seconds that Casey and her daughter had to seek refuge on top of a neighbour's house.
Eventually, they were reunited but their house is no longer livable.
"At the start of it all we had the slight chance we might be able to get back into it once everything is fixed up but it seems that something must've happened - with a lot of the insurance worries it became impossible for the landlords to fix houses back up. With the resources and time frame they didn't want us waiting around in a caravan for years," Whitton explained.
The captain-coach added his nearest and dearest have been key in getting through an undeniably tough time, along with the community supporting each other.
"You see everyone that's been impacted come together and little things like Survival Day, how everyone came together in little celebrations," he said.
"Everyone has come together to get around and talk to touch base with each other and see what needs to be done, the people at the showground have been unbelievable with the support they've given us.
"It's that old cliche, we may have lost everything but we're all here, we're all safe, and all together, but it's so much more than that. There is the bad as well, we've lost a couple of people to these floods, families and broken and with insurance worries it's a slow process but we're getting through it."
Unfortunately for the Golden Eagles, its 2022 Woodbridge Cup season didn't bring a whole lot of success.
An injury crisis hurt them on the field, with Whitton himself injuring his thumb with a few games remaining.
The captain-coach said even if he wasn't successful in securing the coaching role, his plan was always to play in the Eugowra jersey once again.
"With everything that's happened with the community (I decided to go again) ... if I got the coaching role or not I was definitely sticking around to play footy," he said.
"I stuck my hand up and it seemed we did an OK job last season and they decided to give me another crack so I'm looking forward to it."
Whitton explained despite the lack of success on the field, he got a lot out of the role.
"It was my first year of captain-coaching ... I can see why a lot of coaches out there get stressed as well, (considering) how big the year is," he said.
"With injuries and everything it was unreal how the club and boys pushed through to get us to the end of the season.
"I really enjoyed it, they showed a lot of heart and pride in the club and the town. It was definitely something that made me want to stick around and dig a little deeper."
The man in charge added his squad this year will be mainly local players with a sprinkle of outside talent from Parkes, Forbes and Orange.
For him, there's only one goal in mind - he's all about providing a release on a Saturday for a community that's suffered so much.
"(My goal is) bringing the enjoyment and love back into the game, not just with the playing group and committee but also all the town as well," he said.
"Giving them something to look forward to on the weekends, bringing the families out and getting everyone together."
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