NO-ONE was more delighted than Dan Runchell when Maitland lured former Australian under-20s hooker Phil Bradford to Marcellin Park this season.
Runchel had worn the Blacks No.2 jersey for the best part of 15 years.
But at age 35, and with his body screaming at him to stop, the Maitland stalwart was glad - excited - to take a back seat.
"I was really happy when they signed Phil," Runchel said. "I was still keen to play, but I knew there was someone in the position who would do a really good job. I was happy to sit on the bench."
That all changed this week when Bradford jetted out to Spain for a new adventure.
Willie Soe, a prop, filled the void at hooker in the 43-14 win over Southern Beaches last round, but Runchel is the man entrusted with the job for their final game against Lake Macquarie on Saturday and their finals run.
"He is such a great club man and has put his hand up to help us out," Maitland coach Matt Thomas said.
"Willie played hooker on Saturday, but Dan is the one we will go with. We will have Willie and maybe Rhys Watson as back-ups as well.
"It's not like we are throwing someone in for the sake of it. When you get a quality player like Phil leave, to have another one to fill his shoes in Dan Runchel, things are going pretty good."
Runchel, who sits second on the Blacks' all-time first grade games list with 190 games, has played "about five games" off the bench in the top grade this season.
"My mind is definitely up for it, it's a matter of getting my body right," Runchel said.
"It has been a bit of an up and down year for me with injury. That is because I don't have the time to put into it any more. The scrum has been going pretty well, so hopefully they look after me."
Runchel started at hoooker in the Blacks' 20-8 loss to Hamilton in the grand final last year. He was also a member of the side which lost to the Hawks 39-34 in the 2010 decider.
"This is Dan's last year, he has told us that already," Thomas said. "He wants to go out on a high after losing the grand final.
"They are two different styles of player. Phil was in great form and was one of the better players in the competition.
"Runch is also a very good player. He also brings enthusiasm and knowledge of the team and Maitland's history.
"He is a smart player in his own right.
"He is strong in the scrum and good around the park."
As well as work in Singleton, the father of three, plays in a band and is also studying a bachelor of business.
"He has a lot going on, but he can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Thomas said.
"We would like to finish off the fairy tale for him, but so does every other side."