COVID ruined Ryan Baker's goal of cementing a Pirates first-grade spot this year, while mateship and a desire to untether himself from his childhood home will likely result in him soon leaving Tamworth.
In the meantime, the 21-year-old has another premiership to win.
A year after warming the bench when Pirates secured a fourth-straight premiership in an upset defeat of Walcha, the flanker hopes to be part of another underdogs triumph when the Swans look to shock Gunnedah in the finale at Wolseley Oval on Saturday.
His first full season of AFL (he played seven games for the Swans in 2018) only occurred after the Central North rugby season was cancelled because of the pandemic. Missing the chance to cement a starting spot at Pirates, after a breakthrough year in 2019, left him feeling "disheartened".
But when that door closed another one opened, and Baker has become a starting defender for a Swans side who have made their first grand final since 2009 - years of struggle now in the rearview mirror and becoming more distant.
However, if his plan to relocate to Newcastle to hook up with mates had worked, he wouldn't even be involved in the grand final. Baker - a bartender at the Tudor Hotel and a McCarthy Catholic College alumnus - now expects to move to Newcastle at the end of the year.
This season has been a learning process for him. "I've come out of my shell a bit. Like, at the start [of the season] I wasn't sure what was going on ... I've definitely started to get better."
Despite two big losses to Gunnedah this year, Baker insisted the Swans could win the grand final. "We've got the team to do it - that's for sure. We've just gotta walk out there and keep our heads held high the whole time and keep working as a team."
Swans president Josh McKenzie said Baker was a "real surprise packet". "He is pretty unassuming most of the time," McKenzie said, "but this belies a fierce determination that has been unleashed the last month."