IT WAS a tale of two returns at Jack Woolaston Oval on Saturday, two young men determined to help their mates and club reap some rugby league success.
In one corner was Josh Schmiedel, the slashing and dashing backrower who can slice through opposition defences out wide to score and create try-scoring opportunities, and defying doctor's orders after suffering an innocuous but serious eye injury against Kootingal in the first round.
In the other, Sam Taylor.
Taylor's layoff had been even longer, suffering a major knee injury in Kootingal's loss to North Tamworth in the second round of last season's competition.
The dashing pivot had played 20 minutes the previous week in the Roosters 44-nil win over Boggabri and was back for his first full game since that disastrous loss to the Bears last season.
"Yeah, good to be back," Sam smiled despite of, and after, Saturday's 30-10 defeat.
"More mental than anything with the knee," he added of the heavily strapped right appendage.
"I got through the 80 minutes."
He said his side competed but couldn't complete.
"Back to the drawing board. We have to tighten up the middle, that's where they scored most of their tries," he said.
He added that the Bears have a lot of experience too.
"They've been together a long while," he said.
"We've got a side that is coming together but doing it a lot harder."
Schmiedel, like Taylor, said it was "good to be back".
"A bit of a relief to get through it actually," Schmiedel said.
"I had some good minutes today, played 40 or 50."
Halfback and ringleader Kieran Fisher was delighted to have him back.
"He made a difference," the feisty little number seven said.
"Tried to get him the ball as much as possible."
Schmiedel said he "struggled with fitness more than anything".
"I've only had a handful of runs," he said "but we got there".
He said the Bears got a bit exited with the ball at times and came up with some simple errors.
"We had good field position but pushed that extra pass," he said.
"Made it a little harder for ourselves and tried to attack off their (Kootingal) mistakes as well."
Fisher said the discipline has to improve.
"We had to change our side a little bit (to fit Schmiedel back in) and Blanchy had a tough job during the week and had some tough calls to make," he said.
"When you have 20 players of first grade standard to fit in to 13 (or 17 as a squad) it does make it a hard call."
He said Kootingal will improve but so will the Bears.
"If we can be better with the ball we'll be even more dangerous now."
Having both Schmiedel and Taylor back also provides club supporters and football fans with even more high class players to ramp up the final rounds and the run in to the September 7 Grand Final.