IT wasn’t supposed to be like this.
After soaring up the ladder last season, most Ovens and Murray punters had North Albury pegged as a genuine premiership threat this year in Jason Akermanis’ second season as coach.
The big names had returned to Bunton Park over the previous 12 months and two rising star nominations suggested there was also plenty of improvement coming out of the club’s younger brigade.
But it all went horribly wrong.
Warning bells started to ring late last year when the Hoppers were failing to land a big-name recruit after being trumped to the O’hAilpin brothers by Albury.
That ring only got louder as a host of senior players started to leave.
It was then things started to become clear.
Rumours of outstanding player payments and substantial debts at the club started to circulate and eventually culminated in the announcement the Hoppers were more than $120,000 in the red.
A team which looked primed to tackle the heavyweights of the league now looks all but certain to struggle.
And captain Daniel Leslie is the first to admit that has been hard to take.
“Obviously after the year we had last year, finishing fifth, we were really keen to build on that this year,” he said.
“Things haven’t panned out that way, obviously, and now it looks like we’re going to be in for a tough year.”
But it’s not all doom and gloom.
Adversity brings opportunity and plenty of young players at North Albury will get just that this season.
It’s not ideal, of course, but does add some form of silver lining to the Hoppers’ troublesome situation.
“I suppose a lot of people say it when you go through something like this but it will be a good chance to get some games into our younger guys,” Leslie said.
“It is a really, really young group.
“We’ll be looking at fast-tracking a few of them and they may have to become good senior O and M players sooner than they had to.”
Kris and Nick Holman have added life to the group since coming home from Perth, while the full-time return of former Murray Bushrangers star Kristian Cary just about counts as a recruit.
Jethro Calma-Holt and David Miles look set to fill the leadership voids left behind by recent big-name departures and livewire Jarrah Maksymow hasn’t lost any of his natural talent.
Leslie said the Hoppers had no time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves.
“We’ve got to try and stay positive,” he said.
It’s the only attitude to have at this time of year, but when things start getting tough in the cold winter months, staying positive is far easier said than done.