SEMI-FINALS football - that is the goal Western Rams coach Cameron Greenhalgh has set for his squad in 2021 to mark the return of an open NSW Rugby League Country Championships.
After running as an under 23s competition since 2017, Greenhalgh is excited that the Country Championships has reverted to the former system of no age limitations placed on players.
Having mentored an open age Western outfit in last year's President's Cup, Greenhalgh has a good idea of the talent within the region. It's talent he thinks can carry the Rams to the Country Championships semi-finals.
"When they rang at the end of last year and said we're going back to opens, not 23s, it was exciting. There's a lot of talented guys who are 24, 25, 26 and even up to 28, 29 years of age there's still that window for players if they really excel they could get another crack down in Sydney," Greenhalgh said.
"I've had a few phone calls from blokes who are really, really keen, it's good to see a few guys putting their hand up.
"It would make a bit of a headache if everyone put their hand up, in the key positions there are a lot of good players in the competitions. If Western could put their best players out there, and hopefully they make themselves available, then we'll be a very, very big chance of playing semi-finals.
"That will be the goal to start with, to make the semi-finals. We've had success in previous years in the semis so I just hope we can get the pride back in the jersey again."
While Western went winless in last year's inaugural President's Cup, it was a very young squad that conceded size and experience to their rivals. They also had a very limited preparation given most players thought they would not get any senior league in 2020 following the COVID-19 outbreak.
But Greenhalgh knows the experience gained in that campaign will help those who return for a Country Championships tilt this year.
"We had a really young group, a few of the old heads decided to have the year off and concentrate on their work. We had a lot of young fella come back from the NRL juniors, but they've probably gone back down there and are doing their thing, so I just hope the other fellas stand up," he said.
"It would be great to have the blokes who are experienced and have played a lot of rep footy. I've been looking around the regions at the signings and the talent is definitely there.
"Some blokes might need a bit of prodding from me to let them know they've got the chance."
Unlike the old knockout format of the Country Championships, this season the Rams are guaranteed two games. How Western performs in those matches will decide if they advance to the finals.
While there have certainly been success stories for Western in years past, its fortunes in the most recent open age country titles have not been good.
After a period of Group 10 and Group 11 competing individually in the championships, Western Division made a return in 2013 under the guidance of Dennis Moran.
But they fell in round one, eliminated after a 40-28 loss to Central Coast.
First round exits followed at the hands of the Greater Northern Tigers in 2014 (12-6) and 2015 (48-40), while in 2016 Western also exited the Senior Country Tier Two Championship race after a 32-20 defeat in their opening match against Greater Southern Stars.
But Greenhalgh feels the return open age championship will be one in which the Rams make their presence felt.
"There's a lot of quality about in Group 10 and Group 11 and I hope the guys that didn't play last year are really champing at the bit to have a crack," he said.
"We play Monaro at Canberra the first week and then we play one of the Northern sides at Tamworth, so we start with two away games, but I'm confident with the talent we have in Group 10 and Group 11, if fellas put their hand up, it will be very difficult to beat us."
The Rams will have their first of three planned training runs at the end of January.