Wagga Magpies under 15s didn't get a shot at the back-to-back premierships they were hoping for in their final season of juniors. Put it down as another COVID-19 casualty.
But the talented teens did all they could to claim a technical victory, finishing on top of the ladder after a 34-6 win in their last game against Young on Saturday.
It completed a pre-season goal and high praise from coach Gavin Smith.
"I'd like to take credit but I can't. They're just a really, really good group of young men who are switched on about football... they've attained everything we set, or they set for themselves," Smith said.
"From the start of the year we knew we didn't have a finals series so we set that goal - no finals series, we have to finish on top of the ladder."
It was close... Magpies finished level with Kangaroos after both had seven wins in eight games. But they beat 'Roos 30-16 in the opening round to claim bragging rights. And a stunning defensive record, conceding only 58 points in their other seven games, ensured a superior points differential and top spot.
Magpies' only loss was to Young back in round four when, Smith said, the Cherrypickers came out and "played a really good brand of football" to win 24-18.
They learnt from the mishap, upping their game and beating Young twice in the last three rounds. In between, they had another good win, 36-0, against last year's grand final opponents Tumut.
In their last four games, they let in just three tries.
"I've had two years with these young men and they've taught me more about coaching than I've taught them about playing football. Which is lovely, seriously," Smith said.
Half of the Magpies team have been with the club for nine seasons already. The other half have come in the last couple of years. But they've gelled beautifully and been steered around the paddock this year by classy halves Campbell Lyons (who came across from Group 20) and Angus Purcell, who's been at the club since he was four.
Hooker Rowan Hoare and fullback Isaac Hardman completed a strong spine for the team.
As well as missing out on a finals campaign, Smith was disappointed his players won't get the chance to bid for higher honours in Canberra's Harold Matthews junior representative squad.
"While I'd like to point out individual players, I was organising a bus to take our entire team to Canberra to try out for the Raiders... I would have at least six players I think would be good enough for the Raiders squad, and another six who would've been good enough to play for Riverina Bulls development squad," Smith said.
"It's been a difficult year for them with everything, but they've been fantastic."
Magpies won't be the only proud club. Their senior affiliate, Southcity, will await this next generation with great anticipation.