There's nothing like a strong pre-season and dose of youthful enthusiasm to lift hopes at a football club.
Just ask Maitland Blacks coach Matt Thomas who is predicting exciting times at the club after a seemingly disastrous off-season when the club had to deal with the retirement and loss of several key players to other clubs.
"There is a great vibe at training, players are really buying into what we are doing this year," Thomas said this week as build towards the March 28 kick off to the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union season.
"We have a lot of new faces coming down. Everyone who is coming down is really enjoying it.
"The training sessions are hard and sharp. We don't stop, we've got a different mentality to the way we are training."
Michael Howell and Dan Runchel are retiring, Anderson Medal winner Carl Manu and his brother Devante have switched to University.
Among the younger ranks Dale Clacherty, Chris Martin and Pat Robards are teaming up at Beresfield in a return to rugby league, Lachy Bradford and Sam Parkinson are playing in Sydney and Max Stafford is undecided about whether he will play or not.
"It's a new look Maitland, which is great, and the players are doing a lot of the hard yards off their own back at the moment which is really good to see," Thomas said.
"We've had some players leave the club and go to other clubs or retire, but I'm always a glass half full type of bloke and see that as creating massive opportunities for new players and existing players coming through.
"The situation even gives us as coaches a great challenge to keep the players firing all the way through the season.
"The sense of belief is still there. We have a really good core of players with a real sense of belief. They are helping to bring the younger ones and second graders and third graders through and giving them confidence they can play in the higher grades.
"Everybody is encouraging. We are training all together at the moment and the players are encouraging each other."
"We're starting to get a lot of new faces coming through Facebook and the advertising the club is doing.
"We are working with the coaches very much on how to make it a learning environment, and how we can make it a lot more fun.
"We've still got to get the work done but it is all about having fun along the way. It is a different mindset this year.
"We're learning a lot of new stuff this year about how we are going to play the game. There are a few different principles in attack and defence and that takes a little bit of time to get our mindset around what we're trying to do.
"Our training is down to a T. We are scheduled to start at 6.15pm but we normally start a bit earlier and we're finishing at 7.15-7.20pm. Last year we were going to 8pm but this year we are short and sharp."
The Blacks have their first pre-season trials in a three-way competition with Merewether and Tamworth on March 7.
It will be followed by a round-robin competition in Newcastle the following week.
But one of the most exciting and innovative trials will be against the Wollongong Vikings on March 21, which Thomas has organised with his Country Colts coaching partner Phil Green who is in charge of the Vikings.
"For want of a better description it is a training, scrimmage and bonding session with the two clubs," Thomas said.
"The Vikings coach Phil Green and myself used to coach together at Country Colts and we used to like to do these type of things to challenge ourselves.
"We are going to have training sessions during the day and in the afternoon we will have a mock game involving scenarios sessions.
"We thought that instead of just playing a trial, we could stand on the field and tell the players where to go and what to do.
"For example the Viking will get the ball on a scrum, 15 metres out from the tryline and they will attack and we will defend and then vice versa.
"We could attack the tryline from a lineout for three times from the same spot and then swap and we could learn how to defend what they are trying to do.
"We are going to try to do it as a mock game, but in different scenarios rather than just playing a trial.
"We are trying to get more out of where we need to be at certain parts of the field and what we are trying to do and 'if they do this how do we stop it?, or 'if we do that how can they stop us?'."
The Blacks are still keen for new recruits irrespective of their experience of ability. Training is on Tuesday and Thursday from 6.15pm sharp.
"I suppose the message to anyone thinking about playing is that it's a great club and everyone is welcome and all abilities," Thomas said.
"We need second grade, third grade and women's teams as well as first grade players."