The Victoria Thunderbolts appear to have overcome a mid-season form slump as they produced their second win in as many weeks with a tough 28-12 finish over a strong Souths Logan outfit at Davies Park on Sunday.
Despite going a month between victories prior to their success against the Capras, their performance against a dangerous Magpies outfit was reflective of the early season form that had them being touted as premiership favourites.
Thunderbolts coach Ben Jack spoke highly of the spectacle that the weekend's game presented, in particular referencing the bruising battle that took place down the middle of the park.
"I thought it was really physical... The two forward packs bashed each other and it was probably one of the best quality U20s matches I've seen in a few years," he said.
But while their recent victories have them back in the conversation for finals football, the Victorians aren't just driven by on-field results.
In a targeted growth area such as Victoria, developing home-grown talent and instilling pathways to promote rugby league are vital.
Ben Jack echoed this sentiment and highlighted the efforts of Victorian junior Kelma Tuilangi, who graduated from the Thunderbolts squad into the Easts Tigers Intrust Super Cup side last weekend.
"We had Kelma Tuilangi play for Easts Tigers in the Intrust Super Cup and that's a really good carrot for our local Victorian juniors because they see clubs like Sunshine Coast, Easts Tigers and the Melbourne Storm looking at them for those bigger honours," he said.
Tuilangi is just one of many Thunderbolts who have made the transition to the Intrust Super Cup with the likes of Cooper Johns and Tino Fa'Asuamaleaui further emphasising the pathway on offer through Hastings Deering Colts competition.
Whilst their coach would have liked the services of the trio during their lean run of form, Jack sees the long-term benefit associated with their promotion through the Queensland Rugby League elite pathways system.
"Selfishly I'd love to have them as much as possible, but part of this program is the development of players and I get a real big thrill out of seeing guys not only get picked, but perform well on the bigger stages," he said.
As the Thunderbolts are the only team across an entire capital city, the geographic diversity amongst Jack's squad poses some logistical challenges.
Despite the challenges presented, coach Jack remains committed to being proactive in the interests of player welfare as he often alternates between their home base at AAMI Park and junior rugby league clubs in Werribee and Casey in order to reduce the burden of travel amongst his squad.
"We don't have a training base, so we rely heavily on our junior league clubs for training grounds and they've been really good to us," he said.
This reliance on junior rugby league clubs such as the Werribee Bears and Casey Warriors form part of a crucial relationship between NRL Victoria, the Melbourne Storm and the Victorian Thunderbolts who all combine to provide the platform for an elite junior pathways team to play in the Hastings Deering Colts competition.
The Thunderbolts play their role in this partnership by providing coaching development opportunities and Jack believes the wealth of experience and talent on his coaching staff is an untapped resource for junior coaches in Victoria.
"We try to help upskill coaches when we train at the junior clubs by asking those coaches to come down and learn from guys who have played in the NRL and are now coaching in the Thunderbolts program."
The Thunderbolts will be looking to continue their return to form when they host the Norths Devils on Sunday at 2pm.