If anyone harboured any doubts about what the George Tooke Shield means to the John Sykes and the Gordon Highlanders, they have been dispelled in the last fortnight.
After claiming four wins in the first four completed matches of the year, the Highlanders have suffered a draw and a loss in their last two fixtures.
Their solitary defeat for the season came last weekend, at the hands of the Gunning Roos, 14-12.
"I didn't sleep for two nights after that loss against Gunning," head coach Sykes said.
"To go through the comp undefeated meant everything to me. I know the boys were so bitterly disappointed."
Last Saturday's match was a huge opportunity gone begging for the Highlanders. Had they defeated the Roos, Gunning would have been unable to make the grand final, and it would have secured the minor premiership for the Gordon side.
Instead, a shattered collection of players will regroup at training tonight, and try to amend the issues which have bedeviled them in recent weeks.
"We're going to go back to training tonight and address the way we're going to play the next three games," Sykes said. "The structures we have in place don't necessarily suit the George Tooke game.
"The shapes we're running might work in first grade and in Sydney, but this is a different game. We as a collective need to be smarter with the way we play that. We need to learn, we had plenty of opportunity on Saturday."
Though the Highlanders led for much of the game on the weekend, a combination of bad defence and some questionable refereeing allowed the Roos to cross for what was the match-winning try.
To lose such a close match was "shattering" for the team, Sykes said, but he is committed to looking forward.
The Highlanders' next match will take place this weekend against the Burranjong Bears.
After a poor start to the competition, the Bears have recruited wisely and become a much more formidable prospect. Sykes admitted that he did not know what combination Burranjong would play this weekend, and so has focused instead on ensuring the Highlanders are ready for anything.
With only two rounds left before the grand final, the pressure is on for the Highlanders to regain the top spot. With the commitment and dedication the side has shown so far, Sykes knows they can do it.
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