For the first time since 2008, the Picola District Football League’s north-west and south-east sides will go toe-to-toe this weekend.
After the divisions merged post the league’s decision not to affiliate with AFL Goulburn Murray, Katunga and Blighty will be the first of the sides from the opposite divisions to throw down.
Katunga enters the new campaign after a first-round finals exit last year, with co-coaches Daniel Burness and Eamon Reeves again at the helm.
The Swans have added former Richmond and Sydney AFL talent Tom Derickx, but the ruckman is only expected for half the season.
Again the emphasis will be on youth, with up to a dozen players younger than 20, and a midfield improvement is vital to matching it with the league’s best.
For Blighty, last season was a quality year with a third place finish in the north-west division.
But the merging leagues threw a spanner in the works for new playing coach Jack Tyndall, who knew little about what to expect from Katunga.
‘‘Obviously we don’t know a lot about Katunga — I don’t even know where that is,’’ he said with a laugh.
‘‘We’ve got no idea what to expect really, but they seem to have recruited well.
‘‘There’s a fair bit of unknown for us, but we’ll stick to our guns and look for a good start.’’
Tyndall said recruiting priorities had included height and depth.
‘‘We got in a few big blokes to free up some of our guys down back,’’ he said.
‘‘And we just want to build more depth; when our twos bother to come to training they’re all right.
‘‘We need our depth to improve to get some pressure on the younger blokes.’’
Blighty’s key inclusions are Tanner Robertson (Deni Rovers), Rob Resuggan (Deni Rams) and Dane and Dylan Maxwell (Tocumwal), adding to a talented list that already includes reigning league best-and-fairest Jed Brain.
Tyndall, who said at one stage in pre-season he’d found 14 players who would miss out on senior selection that could comfortably fit into the side, was pumped to get the new season going.
‘‘It’s something we’ve been working towards since late November, so everyone is pretty excited,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a bit of an unknown for us, none of us have played against the new teams except a few of the older blokes.
‘‘Not too much changes though, Waaia is meant to be pretty strong, but we’re pretty confident with what we’ve got and hopefully we’ll be thereabouts.’’
Waaia v Katamatite
Waaia enters the new-look Picola District league as many people’s premiership fancy, but will have to contend with a fired-up Katamatite in round one.
The Bombers have a stacked side after adding a handful of quality players and, with the south-east sides thought to have an edge in quality, enter the campaign as one of the front-runners.
New coach Matt Brown has secured Matt Smyth (Numurkah), Darcy Botterill (Picola United) and Mooroopna duo Dylan Cornick and Ash Thompson, adding to a side that won a final last year.
Katamatite’s Jedd Wright stepped up as coach this year and wasted no time adding Numurkah gun Tom Buzza to the mix.
The Tigers were 4-14 last year, but seem a top-eight side this season.
And, at least in recent memory, Katamatite has shown it can compete with the Bombers after knocking them off by 35 points in round 15 last year.
It made up for a 132-point hammering in round eight, one of five Tiger losses by more than 100 points last year.
Picola United v Mathoura
Picola United enters this season off the back of two Picola District north-west premierships — but will have to tackle a new field of challengers to make it number three.
Plenty of talent has left the Blues — including young stars Adam Jorgensen (Nathalia), Kian Wise (Rumbalara) and Des Morgan (Deni Rovers) — but a handful of new faces means they’ll again be a force.
At the other end of the table will likely be Mathoura; after a 2-14 season in the north-west, the Timbercutters’ task has only become more difficult facing the south-east clubs.
New co-coaches Jack Keogh and Darcy Robinson will bring youthful exuberance to the role, but have acknowledged the difficulty of the job taking the side back into finals contention.
Four incoming Moama talents will boost Mathoura as will Waaia’s Jarrod Brooks and Rushworth’s Caleb Johnson.
United has won its past six games against Mathoura dating back to round 17 2014, and with an average winning margin of 64 points it is fair to say a Timbercutters win would be a massive upset.
Yarroweyah v Jerilderie
After a barren 2017, the only way is up this year for Yarroweyah.
The Hoppers were regularly belted last year, outscored by more than 2000 points with an average losing margin of 135 points.
Winless since round nine 2016, the Hoppers have turned to Geoff Benson and last season’s captain Andrew Jones to coach the side, replacing last year’s coach Paul Massingham who has moved to Finley.
They’ll start their campaign by hosting Jerilderie, a side that has slipped since a grand final appearance in 2015.
The Demons struggled to compete last year with a 4-12 record, and haven’t done much on the recruiting front to suggest a surge up the table.
They’ve lured back Nick Parker and Chris Hickey, both locals, but any further improvement will have to come from within.
But two of those wins came against their weekend opponent, winning by 39 points in round six and 26 points in round 15.
Last year’s best-and-fairest Chris Marshall takes the reins as coach, and said the year would serve as a learning experience for his side.