The Woden Valley Rams believe they're ready to step up and be finals contenders, but coach Ash Barnes admits there's plenty of room for improvement after falling to the Queanbeyan Blues on Sunday.
The Rams were always fighting from behind and couldn't charge over the top of the defending premier Blues in a 24-10 loss at Phillip Oval.
But after losing back-rower Tom Hicks before kick-off and then two players to concussion during the game, Barnes praised his team's grit and determination.
The Rams have been on the cusp of finals appearances in recent years, but have lacked the clinical edge to force their way into premiership contention.
"You're never happy with a loss, so I'm disappointed with that," Barnes said.
"But if we play like that each week, we'll go a long way to winning a lot of games. Particularly defensively, if we get that right we'll be right on it.
"We've been in that fifth and sixth position in the last few years, we've been too inconsistent and drifted in and out of games.
"But we were in it for 80 minutes against the Blues ... that's what we're trying to instil. It's just a couple of key moments where we made poor decisions and the Blues punished us for that. We'll build on that performance."
The Rams took a hit in the warm-up when starting second-rower Hicks was forced out of the game with back spasms.
Barnes was forced to call on Brad Martin, who had just played 70 minutes in reserve grade, to fill the void against the most dominant forward pack in the competition.
The injury toll got worse for the Blues with centre Michael Geiger knocked out when he was kicked in the head trying to score a try and skipper Josh Burns couldn't finish the game because of concussion.
The Blues showed why they're the defending premiers and one of the favourites to lift the trophy again with a determined effort against the Rams.
They opened the scoring, but were then locked in an arm wrestle for the rest of the match before they kicked clear in the last 10 minutes.
Coach Simon Woolford said Aaron McInness was impressive while Tom Ruediger scored a double.
"We had to alter our plan in the wet, we still wanted to play a bit and I think the boys got the balance right," Woolford said.
"You're never comfortable against a team like Woden at home, but we were good enough and our defence was a real feature for us.
"We're a team that will improve as the year goes on, we've got a couple of new players and missed out on a trial so we were underdone. But to get a couple of gritty wins to start the season is very pleasing.
"I thought it was Aaron's best game for us, he was outstanding."
AT A GLANCE
QUEANBEYAN BLUES 24 (Tom Ruediger 2, James Woolford, Jake Wheeler tries; Craig Wilkinson 4 goals) bt WODEN VALLEY RAMS 10 (Kahi Hirawara, John White tries; Tim Chrome goal)