Pre-season prediction: Eighth.
Position: Sixth (6 wins, 10 losses, -46 points differential)
In short: By far, Hay’s most successful season since the former Group 17 entity joined Group 20. For once, the Magpies were not easybeats. They were tough, clinical and – for the first time in a long time – competitive in almost every match.
What went right: Gone were the days when a match against the Magpies was effectively a week off for the opposition. Co-coaches Neil John Nisbet and Moe Clune changed the culture of the club from perennial strugglers to never-say-die battlers and in doing so, the Pies claimed some massive scalps and went to within three wins of a maiden finals berth.
What went wrong: On occasion there was still the odd glimpse of the bad old Magpies – the side that folded under pressure and gave up when the heat was on. While on one hand delighted with the progress Hay made, Nisbet was at times frustrated with just how long it was all taking. No surprises that it was usually numbers issues behind the side’s worst performances.
Best win: In what must go down as one of the biggest upsets in Group 20 history, the Pies sent shockwaves through rugby league in the region with a stunning 50-22 win over twice-reigning premiers West Wyalong at Hay Park Oval in round 3. Nobody saw it coming – not least the Magpies themselves, who celebrated as if they won the grand final, and justifiably so.
Worst loss: There were no shameful defeats, really – just instances when the Magpies were outclassed by a much stronger side, like the 60-16 loss to West Wyalong or the two heavy defeats to Leeton, which all served as a reminder there is still a lot of work to do.
Best player: Hay’s shining light was an off-season acquisition by the name of Max Edwards, who joined the club from English Super League side London Broncos and took out the club’s best and fairest award. Mitch Rosser, Phil Crosby and Shayne Kennedy also had great seasons.
Leading tryscorer: Edwards was also Hay’s most lethal player in attack, crossing 15 times in his 16 matches. From halfback, he also crafted plenty of other opportunities.
Moving forward: Unfortunately for the Pies, Edwards will return to England next year and a suitable replacement is sorely needed if the club’s momentum is to roll on.
Grade: B. To ditch the wooden spoon was one thing. To do it this way, with six wins to the club’s name and a real glimmer of hope on the horizon, was something else entirely. Finals are not out of the question in 2014, and given the low base Hay has worked from over the last few years, that’s incredible.