The Maitland Saints' hopes of finals were dealt a significant blow with a 20-point loss to Singleton Roosters at Max McMahon Oval on Saturday.
The Saints will need to bounce back quickly but have a tough assignment on Saturday against Newcastle City at Hawkins Oval.
However, even if they don't make finals the club is upbeat about the season with their under-17s getting valuable senior experience and making a real impact in games.
Saints joint coach Dustin Spriggs said the Saints had struggled for the second time against the Roosters in windy conditions, with Singleton making the best of it to score 8.6-54 to Maitland's 5.4-34
"We've played three times because of Covid, we won at home earlier in the year but have lost the other two games in really windy days. It's a very disappointing result," he said.
"We have been building depth and felt we had the measure of them particularly at that bottom six level.
"We were planning all week to use the whole field to exploit that bottom six players, but the wind on Saturday put an end to that.
"It was just blowing across the ground to the non-grandstand side which meant it was really hard to get the ball from over that side.
"It was a bit of a frustrating day we started well and were a couple of goals up early but they just ground their way back into the game and the third quarter really cost us as they kicked three goals to one to set up a good lead on a low scoring day.
"That leaves us two games out of the finals now, but we're not sure with the ongoing restructuring of the draw because of Covid how it will affect us."
The Saints are learning week to week who their opponent will be with the draw released on Wednesday or Thursday.
"As far as a playing group we are just trying to concentrate on week at a time and not buy too much into what's happening down the line with the Central Coast clubs and how finals will work out," Spriggs said.
Going forward for the remainder of the season, the Saints will manage the workload of their talented batch of under-17s who are combing seniors and junior commitments.
The bottom age under-17s, Zack Stewart and Jarrod Inglis and Xavier Russell who are all just 16 were rested against Singleton.
"We have a structured plan of how many games we can play them. Zack, Jarrod and Xavier are in our best 22 but they are all around the mark of the limit of how many games they can play for us. We are not going to burn them out with too much footy," Spriggs said.
"But even without them on the weekend we still had six teenagers. The top teams might have one or two. We are competitive and building."
Ollie Latter and Ollie Palmer were two of the teenagers to make a big mark on Saturday.
Spriggs said the Saints had a core group of about 26-28 players players who were comfortable at first grade level.
"Years gone by we really had to call up guys from reserve grade who may not have been up to it. This year we've got about 26-28 guys who we know are first grade standard which has made a huge difference," he said.
"The young guys we've got now if they are dropped to reserve grade work on the things we've identified and come back better players, there's no complaints."
Spriggs said there were still keen to hear from people from other sports who may want to try Aussie rules.
"Our reserves team is a really good group and we can we do with more players," he said.
"It's a level where you can feel comfortable learning the game, working on your skills and still contributing."
Anyone interested in trying out can call into the Saints training at Max McMahon Oval on Tuesday and Thursday from 6pm.
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