Football fans in the Barooga area today are in for a treat.
The long-running rivalry between the Hawks and Cobram will resume with a Good Friday feast of action, coinciding with the start of a new Murray Football League season.
Both clubs will take to Barooga Recreation Reserve with renewed hopes for the campaign ahead after slogging it out on the track during summer.
For Tigers coach Josh Noonan, today’s clash presents somewhat of a rare opportunity for his young squad.
‘‘It will probably be our best chance in five years to knock them off,’’ Noonan said.
‘‘We’re really excited to get the year under way and see where we’re at as a team.’’
The theme for the Tigers this year — as it has been for a number of seasons now — is compiling a team of local players behind which the town can get behind.
With Cadeyn Williams and Lance Crowe among those returning to the fold this year, Noonan is excited for the year ahead.
‘‘Lance has come back from Strathy (Strathmerton) and got himself really super fit,’’ Noonan said.
‘‘We’re looking forward to putting a local team on the park, it’s our aim to build that long-term stability.
‘‘Steve Smith has also joined us and he’ll be a real swingman for us.’’
Nic Hoban and Tyron Baden have been appointed as co-captains at Cobram, and Noonan is confident his squad will support its young leaders well.
‘‘They’re both in their early 20s, but they’re growing in maturity every month and every game,’’ Noonan said.
For the Hawks, a home season-opener is just what co-coach James Hazelman feels his side needs to kick the year off in style.
‘‘It’s probably the perfect way to start the year — at home on Good Friday with perfect weather predicted,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘I think there will be a big crowd, there’s a lot of people in the area on holiday, so hopefully it draws a few more in.’’
Barooga’s list remained stable in the off-season, but Hazelman is confident his troops can improve from last year’s level.
‘‘I can notice it (improvement) already,’’ Hazelman said.
‘‘I think our pre-season has been one of the best in my time at Barooga.
‘‘We sat down as a group and identified the areas we needed to improve on, and we’re ticking those boxes.
‘‘So I’m extra confident in our group, there weren’t many changes, but we were confident enough that we were good enough last year.’’
Tyrone Downie will be a big loss today as he recovers from an ankle injury, but recruit Cam Sudholz will add plenty of run in the middle for the Hawks.
Mulwala v Congupna
The respective off-seasons of Mulwala and Congupna were extraordinarily juxtaposed.
For the Lions, stability and improvement from within were the pillars of their summer campaign, with only three players coming in and three going out of Lonsdale Reserve.
Michael Tout will rely on his youthful stars to take the next step in their careers while learning their craft from marquee players Ash Froud, Hamish Hosking and Ross Ansaldi.
Meanwhile, Congupna’s recruiting drive was among the most impressive in the competition.
Highlighted by superstar BJ Squire’s return, The Road have significantly boosted their chances of climbing the Murray Football League table this season by largely targeting former juniors with Goulburn Valley League experience under their belts.
This tough round one clash will certainly be telling in deciding whether The Road will take a while to warm up this year or if they are ready and raring to go.
Nathalia v Tongala
The Purple army has gathered its banners and is ready to cheer the new season on in style with a home fixture first-up.
Nathalia’s quest for a second Murray Football League four-peat in little more than a decade begins today against Tongala, and heralds the return of Drew Barnes and Ash Quinn to Nathalia Recreation Reserve.
Adam Jorgensen will also suit up for Craig Kellow’s side, which will be confident of securing a big win to kickstart yet another premiership defence.
For the Blues, new coach Jordan Souter will have plenty of responsibility on his shoulders this season as his side’s leader and best player.
If his young list can stay healthy, Souter will be able to steer Tongala in the right direction in his first campaign at the helm.
Jack Monigatti’s departure will leave a huge hole in the Blues’ line-up, but a number of recruits from neighbouring clubs and leagues will do their best to step up in his place.
Finley v Deni Rams
The Cats are back in business.
After a season at the bottom of the table, Rob Daniel’s Finley charges are ready to challenge for a premiership once more.
Ed Barlow’s return to the Finley fold is huge for the club, and has helped bring a number of other former Cats home.
Under lights at Finley Recreation Reserve, Daniel’s troops will be hoping to match last year’s output of a solitary victory in the first game this season to begin their campaign in the best possible fashion.
Standing in the home side’s way is a refreshed Deniliquin squad.
Todd Gallagher steps up to take charge of the Rams after completing his coaching apprenticeship under club legend Gary Parsons, and will again be one of the integral cogs to the Deniliquin machine.
But the return of Ash Morris — who claimed the Murray Football League’s O’Dwyer Medal with the Rams in 2013 — will certainly ease the large burden of performance that Gallagher carried at times last season.