The Rotorua Boys' High School's first XV rugby season has come to a premature end but those steering the ship are confident it is sailing in the right direction.
They won three out of seven games in the Super 8 competition to finish fourth on the table behind Hamilton Boys', Napier Boys' and Hastings Boys'. Hamilton were the eventual winners, beating Napier 23-22 in the final.
Following that, Rotorua Boys' beat Tauranga Boys' College to be crowned Bay of Plenty champions and start the journey towards qualification for the National Top Four Tournament. Unfortunately, that journey came to a halt in a 26-21 loss to Wesley College in the regional semifinals on Saturday.
A slow start saw them trailing Wesley College 26-7 at halftime and the Rotorua side showed great character to come back in the second half, but ultimately ran out of time.
Rotorua Boys' High School co-director of rugby and first XV coach Ngarimu Simpkins said his side "didn't hop off the bus" in the first half.
"Wesley really dominated the first half and scored a couple of easy tries. The boys were a little bit passive, which we spoke to them about at halftime, and they really came to life in the second half.
"We were proud of the way they got stuck into it in the second half and got themselves back in the game. We were held up over the line four times in the last 15 minutes."
He said the most important thing was that the players learned from their experiences this season. This year's first XV is mostly Year 12 boys who will be back playing for the side in 2019.
"We only lose three boys out of this team next year and these experiences can make a big difference. We want them to care about it and we want them to learn from it so when we're in this position again - and we will be - we start when the whistle blows as opposed to after halftime.
"We're a little bit disappointed with where we've ended up, but we've developed a lot of Year 12s and I'm hoping we see some reward for that next year. It's their year to shine next year and they know what to expect now.
"The positive out of this year is these boys get another crack at this level of rugby next year. We'll have no excuses next year."
Co-director of rugby Deon Muir said the team lacked direction on field this year, but he expected leaders to step up in 2019.
"That's no fault of the boys, we've had to reshuffle the backline over and over again to find someone to steer the ship. I think the last couple of weeks we've started to find that, but that's definitely been a weakness - no real dominant leaders.
"We lost games that we thought we'd win this year, but hopefully that builds a bit of resilience for us going into next year. I think leadership comes from experience and what we've experienced should toughen and galvanise a lot of these boys.
"The most important thing is we've got really good young men in this squad. Yes, they've been disappointed, but they've held themselves in good stead, they're good boys in the community, they're good boys around school. That is something that we're really proud of."
Muir said the talent was there, it was just a matter of the players applying themselves for 80 minutes.
"We've lost a few games, but they've been close. We've either started well and not finished well or the other way around. That's an experience thing and a growth thing. The only real beating we got was against Napier Boys' down there, otherwise they've all been really close. We're not far off - we're in the process of reviewing how we do things now."
The players will now put the 15-a-side game behind them and start looking ahead to the national sevens tournament in December.