Thornton Beresfield Bears have found themselves in the Newcastle and Hunter Community Rugby League A-grade grand final against Dora Creek after starting the season as a band of mates wanting to honour lost friend Harry Hofman by fielding a team at his junior league club.
The premiership will be great, but just getting the chance to run out each week and play footy with mates in a year ravaged by Covid-19 has been something the Bears have cherished in a season which ends just three days after the sixth anniversary of Hofman's death.
Hofman died on October 21, 2014 from a ruptured spleen, the result of Epstein Barr Virus. The popular 19-year-old had played with the majority of the current Bears team in the Maitland Pickers losing under-18 grand final in 2013.
"Almost three-quarters of the team all played with Harry. It's pretty strange but during the week it was the sixth anniversary of when Harry passed away," Bears captain coach Pat Robards said.
"It's been a big influence for us. As we said at the start of the year it's like 'a year for Harry'.
"The focus really hasn't been about playing footy, it's just about hanging out with your mates. It's been good to get the fellas back together and you really enjoy each other's company.
"That makes you want to play well as you want to play well for your mate and you don't want to let them down. I think it has been a really big factor in our success."
Robards admits to some grand final nerves ahead of Saturday's grand final at St John Oval at Charlestown.
"I don't think any of us had any idea of how we would go or have any expectations of success," Pat Robards said . "But I can tell you now we're in a grand final the nerves are there and I've struggled to concentrate at uni. I can't wait for Saturday."
Thornton-Beresfied are under-dogs against Dora Creek who are led by former Newcastle Knight Tyrone Power and have a wealth of first grade experienced players from Newcastle Rugby League teams including Reid Alchin from Kurri Kurri.
But the tight-knit Bears do have first grade league and union experienced players in former Pickers Robards, Tylar Carter, Dan Harris, Zack Pursehouse and Daniel Killen and Maitland Blacks Marcus Christensen and Willie Soe.
"I remember when they originally put out the draw we were put in C-grade. We suggested we may be better suited in B-grade but when the draw came out and we were in A-grade we were livid as we thought we were nowhere near having the quality to play in A-grade.
"We agreed to play the first few games and see how we went and after we knocked off West Wallsend in the opening round we had bit of a confidence boost and it has just gone on from there."
Short of players through injuries and work commitments, the Bears forfeited their one meeting this season against Dora Creek.
"Myself and a few of the boys have played against a fair few of them in the Newcastle comp previously but apart from that we haven't any recent experience of their game," Robards said.
"It's exciting, we're coming in as big under-dogs but hopefully we can cause an upset.
"It's funny, it's a bit like the 2013 Under-18 grand final in reverse when we were red-hot favourites to win and were beaten.
"We know first hand upsets can happen in grand finals."
The Pickers were defeated 28-4 by Lakes United, with centre Harry Hofman scoring Maitland's only try.
- The A-grade grand final kicks between Thornton Beresfield and Dora Creek kicks off at 4.15pm at St John Oval, Charlestown.