Goannas dummy-half Nick Lawrence has a special place in the hearts of Cessnock fans.
It was cemented from the moment the then 18-year-old Lawrence took giant Bulldogs forward Mick Campton's best shot and simply dusted himself off, got up off the The Graveyard turf and got on with the game.
He is tough, uncompromising and skilful, just the way the Goeys love them.
But the affection is a two-way street and the Goannas have been instrumental in seeing him through the toughest times in his young life - his mother Marianne's battle with cancer and death in May last year.
"Everyone at Cessnock has got right behind me, even when Mum passed away Cessnock were there for me throughout the whole time," Lawrence said ahead of Saturday's Coalfields clash against Maitland to open the delayed and revised 2020 Newcastle Rugby League season.
The 10-game home and away season is strictly amateur and the Goannas will be running teams in the men's tier 1 and 2 competitions and women's Blues Tag.
"I can't wait to run out on Saturday, I definitely missed it massively," Lawrence said.
"Even though not everyone's back it's still like we haven't left, it's still got the same sort of vibe about the club.
"It's good there's people there who want to be there just for the love of the game."
In the absence of more senior players, Lawrence is enjoying becoming one of the young leaders of the club along with Reed Hugo, Robert Tuliatu, Seaton Reed and Connor Kirkwood.
Group 21 representative players Hamish and Tyler Wolfgang and Tyler LePrince-Campbell, from Aberdeen, will also line up along with Newcastle Knights junior Tom Baker.
"It feels like yesterday that I was actually debuting for Cessnock but it's a bit surreal to be now viewed as one of the leaders. It has come around very quickly," Lawrence said.
"You don't realise how quickly things change from debuting to being considered one of the leaders at the club even though I'm only 22 and have plenty to learn.
"It's a bit daunting but I think I will do all right. I think I'm getting better around the boys in terms of showing how to go about things and sharing advice with the younger fellas. But obviously, I'm still taking tips off the more senior fellas."
The chief among those is former NRL and Super League play maker Tyler Randall whose professionalism, knowledge and communications skills have impressed all at the club.
"He is not one of those people who keeps their experience to themselves. He shares with everyone and is really inspiring us all to be better. He is awesome. At training I am always asking questions for sure."
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