How much can one regular season win mean to a team? 'Everything' according to Corrimal coach Drew Keys, who feels last week's drought-breaking win over Dapto can have a profound effect on the battling Cougars beyond this year.
Having managed just two competition points through two draws in Keys' first season at the helm last year, a far more youthful Cougars outfit was staring down the barrel of a win-less campaign heading into the penultimate round.
They ultimately avoided that fate with a 36-18 win over Dapto at Ziems Park. It was an overdue reward for a two-year hard slog, with Keys admitting he feared the club was in for a complete knockdown rebuild if it couldn't break through this season.
"That's what you're worried about as a coach, especially when it's a developing club trying to build a different, more professional culture," Keys said.
"We've got such a young side and when things haven't gone our way and we haven't been able to get results, you do worry a little bit. If things didn't turn a little bit for us soon, then guys look at it and they go 'I'm putting in a whole another preseason, and I put in the last preseason for no reward'.
"It's hard because you want to be able to keep the same group, and that's what we've really struggled with over the years. Our roster changed again this year, but in a positive way.
"We definitely got in guys that we wanted to have and I think we've got the right group together. There needed to be some reward for them where they can go 'I love these boys and I want to be back here' because they can see that there's going to be growth'.
"[The win] changes everything. Even off the field it takes pressure off the club because we don't have to say now that we didn't win a game last season. It's a big thing and I think everyone felt that. I know personally it's re-energised me enormously."
If nothing else, the Cougars are due some luck, something the club's been utterly bereft of in recent years.
Green shoots under former coach Sean Maloney crumbled in one horrific afternoon at Ziems in 2019 with an injury toll that saw a game against Thirroul - and ultimately the Cougars campaign - called off early.
Maloney's side looked finals-bound, albeit in a five-team competition in 2021, but were denied their puncher's chance when the season was called due to COVID.
The club was dealt another bitter blow when marquee signing Jarrod Mullen was ruled out for the year prior to round one after dislocating his shoulder in the Cougars' last pre-season outing.
Corrimal's plight this year illustrates the difficulty of rebuilding in a six-team competition that pits them against truly elite sides each and every week.
Those rivals have been full of praise for the Cougars throughout 2023 and Keys is confident it has the beginnings of a competitive side if it can be retained in years to come.
"Realistically, if they were to stick around, we'd start to look like other sides that have had their core group together for four years now," Keys said.
"That's what we're up against. Other than De La, and probably Dapto to a lesser degree, the other sides have been together for a long period, they've built combinations and they just know each other as people.
"We just don't have that yet. Alongside that you've got guys that haven't got the experience because they're just so young. Vili (five-eighth Viliame Mahe) is 19, our forward pack barely breaks 20-21.
"Our captains (Jacob Karam and Zac Riley) are 21 and 22. I really think that there's the nucleus of a good team, but keeping them together is the really hard thing when they are so devastated every week and you don't know if they're going to be able to push through that."
While a win was vital, Keys feels the resilience built through a tough initiation will hold his group in good stead in years to come.
"At the start of the season we were a long way off but, whether it's your mental resilience or your leadership or skills, you've got to gain something from those games," Keys said.
"Someone like Vili is getting exposure to things that West, Collies or Thirroul kids will probably never learn because they've been in teams that have won for years. In terms of who's got more mental and physical resilience, I'd say it's our boys.
"When things do get tough, I'd really like to think now that we've put ourselves in a good position because of how much we put in every week without a result. Now it's just a matter of extending that on for a number of years rather than just playing out the season.
"It's going to feel good when the club can be successful off the back of how much work they've put in this year. All those boys have put in so much and it'd be terrible for some of those guys to leave the club not having gained any reward for it."
The Cougars will now be looking to go out with an even bigger bang against De La Salle this weekend and, despite being down on troops, Keys said they will be emptying the tank.
"We're a bit busted to be fair but the boys are used to that," Keys said.
"They did it last week. We had guys there that played a full reserve grade game sitting on the bench for us. It was looking pretty sparse at warm up when you've got reserve graders that will be in your 17, and it'll be the same again this week.
"It won't matter, we'll be in the fight, that's for sure. If you put your all in for 80 minutes, who knows what happens."
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