Fresh from being named Gunnedah’s player of the year, Callum Hayne has spoken about his hope the Bulldogs will keep their grand final side largely intact as they look to go one better in 2019 and secure that elusive premiership.
The Bulldogs fell agonisingly short in their quest to win their first title since 1998, when North Tamworth edged them 34-28 in the season finale a Jack Woolaston Oval this month.
Hayne, who scored a long-range solo try in that match, said he would be excited to see what the Bulldogs could do next season if most of the players returned.
The hooker and skipper said: “You never really know who’ll be around next year, early on, but I think most of the fellas from this year sound like they’re pretty keen to go around again.
“I think we should still have a pretty handy side coming into next year.”
The Bears have achieved their five straight premierships by keeping the nucleus of their side together each year.
Hayne – the first-grade and the club player of the year and the best forward – was a member of Norths’ 2014 and 2015 premiership-winning sides, before joining Gunnedah in 2016.
He said keeping a side largely intact for a few years “made it a lot easier”.
“Everyone learns how to play with each other and learns what each other's gonna do, and you’re sort of one step ahead of everyone else,” he said.
“I think we come good at the end of the year  and everyone was starting to gel pretty good.
“We sort of showed what we can do as a team. Hopefully we can take that into next year.”
Despite landing the most prestigious gongs at the club this year, the 22-year-old, in typical modest fashion, does not believe he has improved that much as a footballer in recent seasons.
And he believes the club player of the year gong (the first-grade player of the year award was voted on by his teammates) could have gone to a “few other players”.
“It’s nice to win something like this but there are a few other players who would have been right up there that it could have gone to,” he said. “A lot of good players had a good year.”
Hayne gave the revamped first-grade competition the thumbs-up, saying it “worked out a lot better than I thought”.
“Most of the teams that stepped up into first division were competitive,” he said.