Coach Darren Coleman hopes his NSW Country Eagles side can use the heartbreak of 2017 as fire in the belly in their bid to claim a first NRC title in 2018.
The right boot of Perth Spirit flyhalf Peter Grant put a dagger in the heart of NSW Country’s hopes last year, when the former Springbok nailed an 81st minute penalty against eventual premiers Queensland Country.
The Spirit win knocked the Country Eagles out of the top four and ended their campaign in the process.
It is a feeling which Coleman hasn’t forgotten.
“Yeah, last year hurt,” Coleman said.
“It wasn’t the first time we’ve been bumped out in those sorts of circumstances either unfortunately, but that’s just how footy goes.
“We’ve been there or thereabouts and competed well the last few years, so we know within ourselves what we can do to improve.”
It wasn't even the first time the men from Perth had kicked the Eagles where it hurt; in 2016 the Spirit beat the NSW Country boys in the NRC final.
So it's fitting the Country Eagles will take on their west coast rivals - who have re-badged as the Western Force this season - first up in 2018.
That'll be in week two, however, given the Eagles have a bye in the first round of the NRC to accommodate the late conclusion to the Shute Shield.
The first round originally had Country scheduled to take on re-born rivals Sydney, but the NSW derby clash has been moved to a midweek fixture at Leichhardt Oval on September 19.
The Country Eagles will meet the Force on September 9.
The Force are fresh off the debut season of Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest’s World Series Rugby and Coleman knows it will be a tricky test.
The Warringah coach and his staff have to unite their troops in a handful of training sessions before heading west to take a side many regard as competition favourites.
Coleman is thankful for the small mercy of an the extra week off will work wonders in the Eagles’ favour.
“Not only does it give us another week off to allow the players to gel, but it also gives us a more in depth look at what the Force have been doing this year, as well as what kind of squad they’ve put out in week one against Brisbane City,” Coleman said.
“There’s no doubt playing together will have its advantages for the Force, but we are confident that we can head over there and get our season underway with a win.”
More than half of the Eagles squad hails from the country in New South Wales, including recruit and NSW Waratahs back-rower, Jed Holloway.
A former skipper of the now defunct Greater Sydney Rams, Coleman expects Holloway to lead from the front in season 2018.
“Jed has plenty of experience as a result of being in the Waratahs system and we are excited to have him on board in orange and black. We’ve also picked up Mack Mason from the Rams who will be a very handy addition at 10,” Coleman said.
“As we have done in previous years, we will spread our home games around rural NSW. The boys are keen to play in different places such as Mudgee, Armidale and Tamworth to hopefully put on a show in front of their friends and family.
“Should be a good year.”
The NRC kicks off on September 1 with the Fiji Drua hosting the Melbourne Rising. All matches LIVE on FOX or LIVE STREAMED on foxsports.com.au.