The Goulburn Rugby Union Under 18s side has ended its 2021 campaign, following a recent announcement from ACT Junior Rugby Union.
The ACTJRU confirmed on August 17 that the remainder of the season had been called off due to the ongoing COVID-19 lockdowns, in what it described as a "regrettable, but not unsurprising" decision.
The Goulburn Under 18s had battled in 2021, with one win and seven losses from eight completed matches.
As usual, however, the statistics do not show the full story.
Goulburn played in the Under 18 Black division, otherwise known as the top school-age competition in Canberra.
This pitted the locals against powerhouse teams of ACT rugby such as Marist, St Edmunds, and Canberra Grammar, all of whom have training programs and set-ups to rival some professional clubs.
"Those Grammar, Marist, Eddies teams, they've got rugby programs those schools, so we were always up against it," Goulburn coach Dave Anable said.
"Some of them do five training sessions a week, gym programs, diets, the lot. So it was always going to be a matter of suck it and see. But we stuck to it, had a big pre-season, and got better as the year went on."
Despite the disadvantage at which the Goulburn boys found themselves, they showed the quality that Dirty Reds teams have become known for: heart.
This is no coincidence. Since Anable knew the side was likely in for a tough year, the goals they set focused on consistent improvement and perseverance.
"Improvement was the focus, and I think we achieved that," Anable said.
"We never dropped our bundle, and we always tried to keep competing. Those were probably the goals we set, and I think we did that. If there was something wrong, we'd fix it. There was a lot of learning for me and they boys, but I think we did pretty well."
Among their eight matches throughout the year, there was only one real drubbing: a 99-0 loss against second-ranked St Edmunds in round two.
Unfortunately, Goulburn's chance to redeem that particular loss was the last match of the regular season, which was called off. However, it was a mark of the team's character that they were eager to get back on the field and have another crack at the side which comfortably won their first encounter.
"I was a bit disappointed we didn't play that last game," Anable said.
"They gave us a bit of a hiding, but we were looking forward to playing them again just to see how we measured up. But we didn't get the chance."
Many of the players in the current Under 18s side have played their last match of age-group football, and will step onto the field next year with the senior teams.
Though, as many 18-year-olds do, the players still have some way to go in their physical development, Anable believes he has done all he can to prepare his side for their step up into the men's divisions.
"I've prepared them as best I can for senior rugby," he said.
"Physically they're probably not quite there, they're still growing. But they know what to expect from senior coaches now and what work needs to be done.
"It should set them up pretty well for senior footy."
Did you know the Goulburn Post is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.