Wagga City Wanderers will go into the start of the CPL season on the back of one of their 'best performances in years' despite crashing out of the Australia Cup.
The Wanderers exited the Australia Cup, formerly the FFA Cup, last weekend when going down 3-1 to NPL team Monaro Panthers.
A penalty then a goal just before the break put the Wanderers on the back foot at 2-0, before Jake Ploenges put the visitors back within reach at 2-1.
The Wanderers tried gallantly to level the scores before a Monaro goal in the 88th minute put the result beyond doubt.
In a sign of how far the Wanderers have come in 12 months, it was Monaro who ended their FFA Cup last year with a 12-0 whitewash in Canberra.
Wanderers coach Dave Leonard was not there on Saturday, he was playing in a cricket grand final instead. But he was more than pleased to hear of such an improved result.
"Unbelievably good. I was super stoked with that. The boys were super solid," Leonard said.
"I watched it on Bar TV and I was stoked with the boys. 3-1, I was blown away and then to watch it, I was even prouder of the boys to be honest with you.
"That was our biggest test, they are NPL 1, they'll go close to winning the championship this year, they gave Tigers a touch up the week before, it really blows my mind to be honest with how the boys played.
"It puts pressure on the boys now to find that consistency."
It caps off a positive pre-season from the Wanderers. They had won all three pre-season trial games heading into Saturday, and then added a credible loss to that.
Leonard said the way his team defended against Monaro was his highlight.
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"They were in and out of the game in the first half, they just scrambled in defence really well," he said.
"We've been working really hard on that, the boys have probably got bored of it but I think the flipside to it is you've got to have a look at that result on the weekend and compare it to last year and where these guys are.
"They're probably a top two NPL One team and to come out and commit to that second half and drive forward, it would have been easy for us to sit back a little bit and really that invites trouble against a team like that. They got out there and mixed it with the best of them and at times in the match, we were on top.
"The team as a whole, I think that is one of the best games, when you look at the opposition, that the boys have played over the last few years."
Ploenges, Jacob Ocheing, playing out wide, and the Wanderers' back four were among those to impress in the loss.
It now leaves the Wanderers just over a week to round out their preparations for round one against Canberra White Eagles on the road.
"It was good timing for that round," he said.
"We played those three games early and then we did have a few niggling injuries after the third game, which we ummed and arred about, playing another trial but then the Australia Cup came and fell into our lap with that two week break in between, which was good.
"Now we've got a two-weeker, we'll probably play an intra-club match now then we're ready to rock and roll."
Leonard believes his group will go into the season with confidence high.
"I think so. A lot of optimism and the boys will be up and about. It's just a really good way to come into the first game," he said.
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