DAN Collins had to look twice when he noticed the embroidery on an old jumper worn by Nelson Bay treasurer Jeff Sollitt at training.
Under the Gropers logo was written 2001 preliminary final.
“He was wearing one of those old-style jerseys,” Collins said. “Until then I wasn’t aware that was the last time the club has played in the finals.”
That changes on Sunday when the Gropers line up against Wanderers in the elimination semi-final at No.2 Sportsground.
From Parkes, it will be Collins’ first play-off game since packing down for University Norths in Canberra and falling a game short of the grand final in 2012.
The hooker moved to Medowie not long afterwards and joined the Bay.
“First season I was here we finished sixth,” he said. “Then there were a few years where we were in the bottom three. Last year, finishing sixth, was the catalyst for a few blokes to come back to the club. Having depth has been key. Our second grade have made the finals too and there has been a big shift in attitude. We used to be regarded as a social club, not really too concerned about results. Now there are a lot of guys who want to play for their home club plus play competitive rugby.”
Collins has spent the past two off-seasons in England playing for Berry St Edmunds in the National Two competition.
“I came back last season about six games in,” he said. “I’m not sure if the comp has evened out a bit or if we have got a lot better. We used to go into games trying to keep the score down, rather than thinking we can win. This year, we haven’t been thinking about staying in touch, we have always thought about winning.”
Any lingering doubts were wiped with a 24-22 win over premiers Hamilton at Passmore Oval in round five.
“Not many teams go to Hamilton and take a win away,” Collins said. “That was the moment where you think ‘we are definitely in with a crack’. All of a sudden there was more energy around the club. It is easy to train when you are winning games.”
The Gropers also accounted for Wanderers 18-6 at No.2 Sportsground in round 14, breaking a long drought, which was part of a tough run home before a bye in the final round.
“We played the top five teams in the last six weeks so it was good to have a break and be able to come at them fresh,” Collins said.
“Everyone is healthy. We came together on Tuesday night for a review and to get everyone in the mood for finals. A lot of us haven’t played premier finals here. There are a quite a lot of boys who don’t know what to expect. That could work for us. Just get them to fit into their game, the same way they have played all year.”