AFTER Wonthaggi defeated Drouin to begin the Gippsland League football season on Saturday, the rest of the opening round will be played this weekend.
The highlight for local footy followers will be Sunday's Battle of the Birds at Sale Oval between Sale and reigning premier Maffra.
Coach: Jack Johnstone; previous season: fourth (13 wins, seven losses).
In: Jack Leslie (Gold Coast Suns), Jack Johnstone (Maffra), Shannen Lange (Port Melbourne VFL), Tom Glenn (Woodside), Luke Di Ciero (Warragul); out: Nicholas Dowse (Heyfield), Shane Fyfe (Sale City), Michael Todd (Sale City), Tim Dessent (Boisdale-Briagolong).
JACK Johnstone has crossed from Maffra to local rival Sale to coach the Magpies.
The hard-nosed midfielder won VFL and Gippsland League premierships, and can now add senior coaching to his football resume.
Johnstone will complement an already star-studded midfield, which includes league best-and-fairest winners Kane Martin and Jack Lipman.
Sale has lost only nine home-and-away matches in the past two seasons, but hasn't progressed further than the semi-finals in that time.
With a vast amount of senior experience and also arguably the best crop of under 21 players in the competition, Johnstone said the list offered some exciting prospects.
"Our focus this year is going to be on bringing those young guys up to a more dominant level, while keeping the older guys together and using them to harness what they've learnt over the years and build a real core group of 22 to 27-year-olds that hopefully can take them that next step in late September," Johnstone said.
The Magpies has also secured returning local Jack Leslie, who played 28 games for the Gold Coast Suns and is expected to hold a key post in the Magpies' team, and Shannen Lange, who is back at the Nest after playing for Port Melbourne in the VFL.
Coach: Wayne Butcher; previous season: premier (16 wins, four losses).
In: Eddie Proper (Old Melbournians), Jai Hayward (Bairnsdale); out: Jack Johnstone (Sale), Joel Lambourn (Mirboo North), Brandon Rimington (Boisdale-Briagolong), Jim Reeves (Boisdale-Briagolong), James Whelan (Boidale-Briagolong).
WAYNE Butcher will return for his 12th season as senior coach and will be aiming to add more silverware to the trophy cabinet.
While the Eagles have lost a few players, including Jack Johnstone, who is coaching Sale, Butcher believed there wasn't too much cause for concern.
"I remember the year we won the premiership in 2002 we lost nine out of that side and won it again the next year," he said.
"It's not about what's going with us, it's about what's coming up through the kids.
"We don't stress too much about guys leaving - if they choose to play with someone else we wish them luck.
"Our kids will see us through, we've got a couple of good kids in the seniors now that will take the spots of the older guys that have left.
"There's a couple there now that played six games last year that will probably play 20 games this year because with Jack and others leaving someone has to fill their spots and these guys are ready made to come in."
THREE matches will be played on Saturday, with Traralgon hosting Leongatha, Moe hosting Morwell in a local derby, and Bairnsdale making the long trip to Warragul.
Coach: Dean Alger; previous season: 10th (five wins, 13 losses).
In: Tom Hobbs (Frankston VFL), Jake Horstman (returning); out: Kim Drew (Leongatha), Shaun Beecroft (Buln Buln).
DEAN Alger will finally get to coach the Guls senior team following the cancelled 2020 season.
Warragul's ruck stocks will be helped with the return of Jake Horstman, who will want to give his midfielders first use this season.
Coach: Darren Martin; previous season: eighth (six wins, 12 losses).
In: Alex McLaren (Paynesville), Andrew Nelson (Lucknow), Brodie Anderson (Wy Yung), Sam Park (Lucknow), Shaun Mooney (Wy Yung); out: Shaun Wyatt, Callan McKeon, Nick Sing, Tomm Bryan (all to Melbourne clubs).
BAIRNSDALE will welcome back some prominent names in 2021, with Simon Deery and Corey Timms returning from injury.
Having won the league's most valuable player award in 2018, Deery will be a huge inclusion across half-back, while up the other end of the ground, the Redlegs should benefit from a fully fit Brayden McCarey, who still bagged 38 goals despite missing a third of the 2019 season through injury.
With quite possibly the biggest home ground advantage in the competition, Bairnsdale will again be looking to make life difficult for all teams travelling east.
Coach: Jake Best; previous season: seventh (six wins, 12 losses).
In: Jake Best (Eastern FL), Cory Stockdale (Eastern FL), Nicholas Lowden (NTFL), Harvey Neocleous (Morwell), Jordan Cunico (AFL), Daniel Reid (Eastern FL), Harry Botta (VAFA), Jack Williams (Bendigo FL), Mitch Gorman (Thorpdale), Jeffrey McDonald (Eastern FL), Liam Farley (Yarram); out: Haydn Hector (Western Region FL), Kaijah Noda (Morwell), Wilson Gaudion (Rosedale), Zac Gray (Glengary), Ben Johnson (Woodside), Sam Le Lievre (VAFA), Chris Thuring (Bunyip).
HAVING played for Vermont in the Eastern league, new coach Jake Best has used his networks to get a number of players down from Melbourne to pull on the Maroons jumper.
Best has experience playing in the Gippsland League, and kicked 91 goals for Leongatha in 2015. With Best and Dylan Loprese potentially roaming inside 50, Traralgon will have two power forwards in which to funnel the ball into.
Connor Ambler returns from South Fremantle, while the Maroons have recruited Yarram star Liam Farley, but running machine Haydn Hector will be a notable absence.
Coach: Paul Carbis; previous season: grand finalist (15 wins, seven losses).
In: Aaron Heppell (Essendon VFL), Jordie Easton (VAFA), Luther Juric (VAFA); out: Hayden Brown (retired), Chris Dunne (Ellinbank), Brock Davidson (Melbourne) and James Lloyd (Shepparton).
AROUND 12 players from the Leongatha team which played in the 2019 grand final are gone, however the Parrots have added some quality to their list in the time since.
Aaron Heppell is back from the VFL, while Aaron Hillberg is also essentially a recruit, having not played for virtually two seasons due to injury and the cancelled season.
Coach: Lachlan Sim; previous season: preliminary finalist (15 wins, six losses).
In: Declan Keilty (AFL), Cameron Manuel (Eastern FL), Simon Harris (Eastern FL, from 2020), Kristian Jaksch (VAFA, from 2020); out: Spencer White, Jason Ashby, Peter Ainsworth (Newborough), Dylan Farrell (Trafalgar).
HAVING made the preliminary final in 2019, Moe will be hoping its list has now matured enough to give it some sort of edge to respond to the challenges thrown at them.
The Lions will have the luxury of having former juniors Ben Maslen and Trent Baldi continuing with the club following their Gippsland Power days, adding some polish to the way the ball is transitioned.
Another former junior in Declan Keilty is also expected to play a huge role as a key position player at either end of the ground.
Coach: Dennis Knight; previous season: ninth (five wins, 13 losses).
In: Josh Galea (Moe), Wade Anderson (Moe), Brayden Duve (Gormandale), Tyler Brown (Yallourn Yallourn North), Boyd Bailey (NEAFL), Kaijah Noda (Traralgon), Aidan Quigley (nominated VFL club); out: Josh Scott (Woodside), Joel Soutar (Morwell East), Daniel Siddle (Morwell East).
MORWELL encapsulated how close the 2019 was - finishing second last, yet only three wins away from making the finals.
The Tigers ran close a number of times in 2019, and was also one of the few sides which defeated eventual premier Maffra.
The addition of two-time premiership player Boyd Bailey will add class, while bringing in a noted goalkicker such as Josh Galea could see the Tigers add more potency in the front half.
- Previews compiled by Liam Durkin.