TOWNSON Oval is freezing. It feels like the icy southerly wind has actual teeth as it sweeps over the suburban Merewether ground and its couple of hundred spectators.
In the middle of the ground the South Newcastle Lions in their St George-style red V jerseys are battling the black and white-clad Maitland Pickers in their first-grade Newcastle Rugby League clash.
Both sides are struggling to land a knockout blow in the see-sawing affair. The wind is also playing havoc with their passing game and ball handling.
Casually standing near the on-field bench and watching the fray unfold is Andrew Ryan.
The Souths coach is displaying no outward signs of emotion. He just calmly speaks to his hovering trainers who buzz off onto the field to relay his messages.
The only hint of displeasure exhibited by Ryan is when a Pickers try levels the score at 12-all following several missed tackles by the Lions. Ryan merely turns his back to the field and delivers the gentlest of kicks to the grass. Probably more of a caress, than a kick.
When you've played 291 first-grade games in the National Rugby League - which included captaining the Canterbury Bulldogs to a 2004 grand final victory - plus 12 State Of Origins for NSW, 11 Tests for Australia and six Country Origins, there isn't much reason to sweat bullets in the local competition.
Ryan, well known as "Bobcat", is at Townson Oval on this chilly Saturday afternoon out of sheer love. A love for rugby league that continues to drive him to give back to the sport which propelled him from his hometown of Dubbo at 18 "as a fat little bloke" to become one of the most respected footballers on his generation.
A man who was the ultimate clean skin in an era when the reputations of many of his contemporaries were tarnished by off-field scandals.
Bobcat, the player, was a grafter. While he may have lacked the sheer athletic ability and pizzazz of his superstar Bulldogs teammates like Sonny Bill Williams and Willie Mason, he compensated with unbending determination.
"From when I was a young age I was rugby league mad," Ryan says. "I had two older brothers and my father played a lot of footy as well, so I always had a love for the game."
A more recently-acquired love of Ryan's is Newcastle.
Almost five years ago Ryan, his wife Olivia and their four children Lily (11), Jett (10), Evie (8) and Bowy (7) left Sydney and settled in Merewether following a transfer in his role as NRL welfare and education officer and ambassador.
Both Andrew and Olivia, who originally hails from near Albury, were desperate to leave the rat race of Sydney following the end of his NRL career in 2011.
Since then the Ryan clan have embedded themselves in local rugby league with that typical country sense of community. Olivia works on the committee of Souths' junior and senior clubs and Andrew coaches his sons' under 10s and under 7s sides.
"We absolutely love it," Andrew Ryan says. "The kids and the wife have all settled in and they're in a primary school together this year at the one school.
"There's truckloads of sport too for the kids. It's been really enjoyable and a fantastic change, so hopefully we're in for the long haul now. I can't see us moving anywhere else in the future."
TERRY Davies is an old-school sports club administrator - cagey and passionate.
He's also experienced enough in the cloak and dagger world of local footy to know that former Australian representatives don't spring up in your backyard every day.
So when Andrew Ryan moved to Merewether in late 2014 the Souths president was keen to turn Bobcat into a Lion.
There was a scent of desperation wafting out of Townson Oval at the time. Outgoing coach Adam Bettridge had built a formidable side, only to stumble a game short of the grand final for a second straight season.
It had been 25 years since the Lions had tasted premiership glory and there were fears their time was passing.
Due to his ABC commentary commitments, Ryan knocked back interest in coaching Souths full-time in 2015 and settled for assisting captain-coach Todd Hurrell in several training sessions. Ryan, then aged 36, even donned the red and white for a one-off game on Sleapy's Day, Souths' annual charity match for cancer research.
Hurrell would lead the Lions to a drought-breaking Newcastle Rugby League grand final victory in 2016 over Macquarie, before his successor and ex-NRL prop Ben Cross delivered another premiership last year over Lakes United.
But Davies and Souths still wanted their man. After Cross joined Brisbane Broncos coach Anthony Seibold as his assistant, Ryan finally committed to Souths in November.
"From under 19s to first grade, he treats everybody the same," Davies says. "He tries to get everyone involved. We can't speak highly enough of him."
During his 11-year NRL career the 40-year-old Ryan played under some of the biggest names in coaching. Men like Brian Smith, Phil Gould and Wayne Bennett. But his biggest influence was the late Canterbury mentor Steve Folkes.
"Steve Folkes was the coach I had the longest and he was quite disciplined with his work ethic," Ryan says. "But he was also a very loyal guy.
"I guess I'm hoping to emulate that and try to be as honest as I can and show loyalty with the guys that do the job."
Before Souths, Ryan had been an assistant coach for the Italian side and Country Origin and in charge of NSW under 16s, 18s and 20s representative teams. However, this was his first full-time club gig.
Ryan has made an impressive start, guiding the Lions to second on the ladder with seven wins and two losses. His calm demeanour has also impressed.
"There's no yelling or screaming," Davies says. "He goes around and speaks to the players individually in the dressing room at half-time and then has a bit of general discussion and asks the players for their input. He's not a ranter or raver."
The level head, quiet drive and obvious aptitude for rugby league suggests Ryan could be a potential NRL coach.
But these days family comes first for Ryan and it was his main motivation for stepping away from his ABC radio commitments, which regularly forced him to travel to Sydney on weekends.
"I thought I would love to be a coach," he says. "But we're pretty settled here in Newcastle, so as a coach you need to be prepared to move anywhere and opportunities need to come up as well.
"We're very settled here in Newcastle, so in a way, over the years I've parked those aspirations."
BOBCAT might have forgone his NRL coaching aspirations, but he remains highly involved in rugby league at the elite level. And he's potentially playing a far more important role as the NRL's player transition programs manager.
For every Cameron Smith or Benji Marshall racking up 400 and 300 games respectively, there are hundreds of footballers whose career is fleeting. The average NRL career is 80 games, around three years, so preparing for life after football is vital.
Ryan's role is to educate and prepare players for careers after rugby league by encouraging them to gain qualifications while they're still playing and creating pathways with employers.
"Still the challenges come for every player," Ryan says. "You miss the camaraderie, being around that environment, the thrill of big games, so there's all those challenges which are never going to change.
"But we're finding the guys are a lot more prepared than ever before."
During Ryan's playing days, footballers were generally left to their own devices when it came to preparing for life after footy. It was a task Ryan approached with gusto.
"I was probably a bit too focused on life after football while I was playing," he jokes.
Ryan initially completed a horticulture apprenticeship and started his own business, Cityscapes Landscapes, before undertaking an associate degree in sport business and several small business certificates.
"When you do work experience you mix with other people and get a different perspective," he says. "I know for myself, when I was going to TAFE a couple of nights a week I was in awe of people who were working all day and still trying to better themselves by doing a marketing diploma at night."
Ryan has also been an Australian Apprenticeships ambassador and is a patron of the Special Kids With A Disability charity.
This man of many hats, also jokes he has another unofficial role.
"I dead-set feel like I work for Tourism Newy sometimes, I give it that many raps," he says.
There's no disputing Bobcat's eyes remain blue and white and he'll lead the Bulldogs at the Legends of League tournament at McDonald Jones Stadium on November 16. But you sense that the Knights are earning a soft spot in Ryan's heart.
"I was always jealous of what Newcastle had up here as a player," he says. "Even coming through at a younger age playing under 20s and there was 15,000 out there watching you play.
"Some of the greatest fellas in footy I've met come from up here so you get a feel for what they're like.
"It's fantastic to see how much they live and breathe it and it's great to be part of the Newcastle community."