The Gordon Highlanders finally made their return to the playing field on Sunday, and did so in the best possible style with a 22-14 victory over the Gunning Roos.
Despite the persistent rain throughout the afternoon, a large and vociferous crowd packed North Park to watch the match.
Due to the poor weather, the Highlanders' plans were disrupted and they were forced into a physical battle against the Roos, whose reputation for grittiness is well-known.
"We all manned up for each other," Highlanders coach John Sykes said.
"I was very happy with their enthusiasm and intent, they really played for each other.
"The weather wasn't good, it didn't lend itself to playing anything other than a slog-fest in the middle. I expected a tough match and we got it."
More satisfying than the win for Sykes was the reaction from some of the old guard of former Highlanders teams.
"We were next to the timekeepers' and groundkeepers' tent at the ground," he said. "There were a dozen guys in there who followed the old Highlanders teams and they were saying 'I hope it's not 60-nil at half time'.
"They were pleasantly surprised we were competitive. After the game, at the pub, there was a buzz among those older guys which was magnificent."
Prior to the beginning of the season, Sykes' focus had been on ensuring the Highlanders' defence was up to the highest standard.
Playing in the wet first-up was a challenging test for the Goulburn-based side, but Sykes was not overly bothered by the three tries the Roos managed.
"They scored two tries on us, right on the edges. While I don't like tries being scored, I'm not too concerned," he said.
"They got one in the middle but that was just a bad read in defence."
The area in which the Highlanders are most looking to improve was their attack, which Sykes believes can become significantly more potent.
"That was a wet weather match, and while we got the win, we could've been better in attack. We'll be better for that," he said.
"We're a 20-30 point better side in the dry than we are in the wet. Our speed was nullified because of the wet.
"We were as good as could be expected considering the conditions."
As a coach, Sykes admitted he also had some improving to do. When he coached the women's Stockmen team to a premiership in 2018, they had the barest minimum number of players available.
Now, with an excess of players, Sykes acknowledged he was unsure of how best to use his reserves during the match.
"I really struggled on Sunday to give everyone even game time, because there are some boys out there who play just as hard after 60 minutes as they did at the start," he said.
"I need to be smarter how we're going to do that going forwards. But the boys were great, they had such a great attitude."
This weekend, the Highlanders will aim to keep their good start rolling with a clash against the Burrangong Bears.
The match will begin from 2pm on Saturday, August 1, at Cranfield Oval.
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