The new-look Maitland Pickers have kicked off their 2020 campaign by beating Kurri Kurri 14-5 in the final of the A-Plus Contracting Hunter Valley Nines at Kurri Kurri on Saturday.
There's plenty of work to be done including learning the words of the team song, but given the way the new and the old have blended so quickly under coach Matt Lantry there's lots to look forward to.
Although blessed with an abundance of attacking backs, the Pickers went through the tournament undefeated on the back of a terrific defensive effort.
Pickers skipper Alex Langbridge was outstanding at dummy-half constantly catching out opponents with clever running and leading the way in defence with some huge one-on-one tackles against bigger opponents.
"Our defence is something we've worked on and something we will probably have to build our season around," Langbridge said.
"With the side we have if we can sort out our defence then we will go a long way in the competition.
"A lot of us haven't played together yet and we are going to have to be patient early on in the year but I think if we work at it we can build some really strong combinations.
"There were a lot of guys that didn't play today that are certainly going to be pushing for first grade."
Langbridge's younger brother Daniel and Jarome Haines were both impressive in the halves. The Pickers were also well served by outside backs Gary Anderson, Elliott Jennings, Greg Morris and James Bradley.
Marco Delapena was huge in defence in his move to the back row and front-rowers Jayden Butterfield and Peter Cronin looked super-fit and ready to make a big impact this season.
The Pickers defeated Macquarie Scorpions (5-4), Central Coast team Toulkley Hawks (24-11) and Central Newcastle (20-10) in the pool stage to advance to the semi-final where they defeated a star-studded Newcastle All Blacks 14-11.
Despite winning just their opening pool game, the Bulldogs made the semi-finals with the best for and against across the tournament outside the three pool winners.
They made the most of their opportunity beating South Newcastle 14-0 in a hard-fought semi-final.
"To be honest I had given the boys the nod to go home after our loss in the final pool game. I thought that was it for us," Bulldogs captain coach Mitch Cullen said.
"Then big Mick Campton told me to tell the boys to hold on and then it was confirmed we had got through as the team with the best for and against.
"It was good to give some of the boys a hit-out, get some extra yards in their legs and importantly come out injury free."
There were plenty of good signs for the Bulldogs with utility forwards Brady Hammond and Ben Wyborn having fine tournaments, centre Henry Paul showing he will be a huge acquisition and Jared Anderson playing with real aggression.
"Benny is looking like he is back to his best," Cullen said.