Maitland Magpies coach Mick Bolch has rated his young star Jimmy Thompson as one of the best three players in the competition after his stellar start to the season.
"Jimmy is playing at another level. His composure and maturity has grown that much this season," Bolch said after the Magpies were given notice this week's game against Valentine will go ahead.
"We lost a lot of players last year and he is one of the young guys who has stepped up for us as part of the leadership group and he is thriving on it.
"It's not only the goals he is scoring but in general play. He has to be in the best three players in the competition at the moment on the form he is showing."
"He is really leading the boys now that Braedyn Crowley has gone, he has become our go-to-man."
Bolch was relieved that Sunday's game would proceed after last Saturday's fixture against Weston Bears was postponed a fortnight.
The Bears and Phoenix had a dispensation to postpone games as they were missing a large slice of their squad through the Covid lockdown on the Central Coast. The dispensation was lifted this week.
With the local derby against the Bears rescheduled to July 24 at Rockwell Automation Park, the Magpies have a clear run home of weekend fixtures until the finals, barring weather.
"The Bears and Phoenix were notified they are just going to have to push players up from reserve grade and 18s," Bolch said.
"It's hard on them but we've got to get the games played, it's as simple as that."
The Magpies are coming off a 4-2 win against Charlestown Azzurri and confidence is high in the group.
"We did really well against Azzurri. We played some really good stuff and we're creating plenty of chances," Bolch said.
"We've just got to nullify and cut out some of the silly goals we are conceding. You can't keep conceding two goals every week and expect to compete with the top three teams.
"We need to tidy that up a bit and then I'll be pretty happy to be honest."
Bolch said his young squad had developed faster than he had anticipated and were placed now for a top-three finish.
"We figured out we had eight players between 19 and 22 in our starting side which is a very young team.
"The young players have come on a lot quicker than I thought they would this year.
"They are growing each week. We had a bit of a flat spot there in the middle of the year against the top three side with Magic, Edgeworth and Jaffas three weeks in a row.
"They've turned the season around again since then and it will be interesting how we go in the last five games."
It's no easy run into the finals with games against Broadmeadow Magic and Lambton Jaffas in the final two weeks after Valentine, Weston and Adamstown.
"It's that tight, Edgy has a game in hand and they are only one point behind us and the top four teams all play each other in the run in," Bolch said. "I think it will go down to the final round."