TALLANGATTA coach Tyson Smith says the opportunity to further develop the Hoppers' youngsters was a significant factor in re-signing for next season.
Smith has recommitted for next year after answering the Hoppers' SOS call to replace Sam Livingstone who stepped down in December.
"I'm really keen to go again and have enjoyed coaching this season," Smith said.
"Obviously after taking over in December is was never going to be ideal.
"We lost some really good players and a bit of depth as well after Sam stepped away.
"I had been at Tallangatta previously when we were at the bottom and I didn't want that to happen again.
"So I jumped at the opportunity to coach and its been great."
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The departure of Livingstone alongside Tom Johnson, Bob Russell and Andrew Dear had most pundits predicting a Hopper slide down the ladder.
But to Smith's credit, he has been able to defy the critics with the Hoppers set to contest back-to-back finals series for the first time in more than a decade.
"It's a credit to the players who have put in the hard work to get us into the finals," he said.
"You get a bit envious of clubs like Thurgoona and Kiewa who seem to be in finals every year.
"I've played in two flags but have never played in finals in back-to-back years.
"So to be able to achieve that this year is fantastic."
Although the Hoppers still boast match-winners in Kaine Parsons and Scott Spencer, it's the development of several of the club's youngsters which excites Smith most.
"We have got some great kids and will be able to build on that next season which is exciting," he said.
"The development of the kids has been a highlight and what I've enjoyed most.
"Hamish O'Brien, Bailey McKimmie and Mitch McLean has played the last couple and is only 16."
Smith declared the finals race wide open after the Hoppers and Chiltern last weekend were able to inflict Thurgoona's only two losses of the season.
"It was good reward for effort and gives us a bit of belief heading into finals," he said.
"Everyone basically wrote us off at the start of the season.
"But we know we have got some talented players and good kids and on our day are capable of beating anyone.
"We are looking forward to next week and having a crack at the defending premier in Kiewa.
"A couple of weeks ago everybody was thinking how far will Thurgoona win the flag by?"
Tallangatta face Chiltern on Saturday in the final round before the finals series.