It didn’t take long for onlookers to realise The Entrance Tigers were the team to beat in the Mudgee Mines Nines, sponsored by Moolarben Coal, Wilpinjong and the Lawson Park Hotel.
The former Jim Beam Cup side stormed past its first two opponents before stealing an 8-6 victory from Mudgee’s premier division squad in its final Saturday fixture.
Captain Matt Kilick led the orange army through a second flawless day which was capped off by a 14-6 grand final win over Central Coast rivals Terrigal.
It was evident the squads were familiar with each other as opposing coaches were telling players who and what to look out for throughout the 18-minute blockbuster.
Mudgee missed out on a chance to play The Entrance in the grand final after being knocked out by Terrigal in the semis.
“We just kept giving them possession,” Mudgee president Jared Robinson said.
“It’s disappointing we didn’t get the result but we had some blokes out there for the club today who haven’t played footy in three years.
“To see them run around was great and that will be good for us during the season.”
Another talking point for Dragons faithful will be the form of bulldozing forward Jack Afamasaga who, despite producing his fair share of errors throughout the event, looked devastating with the ball in-hand.
If the Dragons wish to return to their 2016 form, the 33-year-old will need to be at his best.
Outside big Jack, the usual suspects – Korin Smith and Jared Robinson – led from the front.
Mudgee fielded two teams during the event and while it’s hard to get a read on how each squad will shape up in the regular season, the second tier team appeared to be a tick or two below the rest of the competition.
However, coach Ben Gregory will cherish the opportunity his club had on the weekend – an opportunity not taken by the likes of Orange CYMS and Oberon Tigers.
The Dragons travel to Blayney on April 8 for the season opener, leaving the 2016 champions just over a month to get their group in peak condition.
After the away trip, Gregory’s group hosts Orange CYMS and Bathurst Panthers, before travelling to face a bolstered Lithgow Workies outfit.
While it will act as a good yardstick for the Dragons, the first month could make or break their campaign.
“The draw isn’t something I’m particularly focused on but I have had a look at it,” Gregory said.
“I’m more focused on getting systems in place and getting our footy team right for the season ahead.”