THEY may have lost their opening Pre-Season Cup match and be hurting with injuries, but Monaro Panthers coach Njegosh Popovich is looking foward to his young talent blossoming in this year's Canberra Premier League.
Popovich has placed high importance on the club's under 16's development program, and a number of players to come through were on show for the first time last Saturday.
The Panthers bravely battled last year's Premier League winners Canberra FC in a 4-2 loss in pre-season action, but led 2-1 in the early stages of the second half.
And the young squad has a boost in confidence heading into their second round clash with 2013 Premier League grand final winners Canberra Olympic.
"For a young side I thought they played well above their ability," said Popovic.
"We had a few young guys making their debuts... we're moving ahead, we are a young side, but we'll improve."
The game was not made easier for the Panthers with forwards Josh Calabria and Nicholas Popovich suffering broken ribs and Osteitis Pubis respectively.
Stand-in goal keeper and former National Soccer League player Tony Giansca also tore his quadracep at half time with 16-year old debutant Dillon Shanley forced to play at the posts.
They were also down to 10 men after Darian McGarry-Watson was sent from the field.
But Popovich believes his young blood and players developed in the under 16s program will be competitive this year and in the long term bring Monaro up from the bottom of the Premier League table.
Lewis Bates, Shanley, Sam Roestbakken and Sammy Zemichael each debuted against Canberra FC.
"As a club we look towards developing and getting them to that level that they can be future first graders," said Popovich.
"I think we'll be competitive. That's what we're about this year... looking to the future and creating a team that will dominate."