COROWA-Rutherglen has endured a tougher off-season than any other Ovens and Murray club with seven regular senior players departing the John Foord Oval.
After winning five games last season, it would appear they face a giant challenge to just match that figure in 2016, let alone improve on it.
But incoming coach Terry Burgess isn’t having a bar of the doom and gloom scenario others want to paint for the Roos.
Where others see disaster, he sees opportunity.
The Roos have been hit on every line with former coach Bryce Campbell, Sam Carpenter, Luke Gestier, Al Austin, Chris Marshall, James Brain and Lachlan Longmire departing the club.
Campbell has taken a year off coaching to return to his roots at Riverina league outfit Turvey Park.
Star on-baller Carpenter has joined Wangaratta Rovers as co-coach and dynamic forward Gestier has switched to premiership contender Lavington.
Brain and Longmire will player closer to home near Melbourne while Austin and Marshall have returned to their junior clubs, the Billabong Crows and Jerilderie respectively.
On the flip side, Hayden Filliponi returns after a knee reconstruction and will be a welcome addition for Burgess in the Roos’ midfield.
Harrison Payne is training with the Northern Blues and the Roos are unsure how much, if any, they will see of him in 2016.
Ryan Garthwaite will slot straight into the side when free of TAC Cup commitments and Jy Lane looks set to make the step up to senior football if not required by the Murray Bushrangers.
“It’s not panic stations, not by a long shot,” Burgess said.
“Obviously we’ve lost four or five really good senior players but if we can replace them with two or three, I think the other two will be made up by the emergence of our young playing group.
“They get an opportunity to step up and take their footy to a new level.”
Burgess said there was plenty of young talent at John Foord Oval and identified James Svarc, Jay O’Donoghue, Joe and Bill Hansen as “players to watch”.
“Then there’s guys that have played a bit of footy, like Tyson Logie, Brad Goyne, Jack Bates and Jordan Lavis, those types that have had 20 or 30 games under their belt, another pre-season and put on 6kg or 8kg and should have the capacity to improve,” he said.
Even in the Roos’ golden era of the early 2000s, they struggled for numbers on the track. Fast forward to 2016 and nothing has changed with numbers in the mid-to-high 20s most nights of pre-season.
Burgess has been impressed with the work ethic of the club’s young group and hopes their pace and fitness can shine through once the season starts.
“It’s been what people know of Corowa-Rutherglen,” he said.
“Like a lot of clubs at this time of year, we struggle to get our whole list together on the same night with work and farming.”
The Roos open the season against North Albury and Wodonga and will be desperate to bank early wins before clashes with competition heavyweights Albury and Yarrawonga later in April.
Rounds six and seven will see them come up against former players Carpenter and Gestier before they finish with matches against Wangaratta and Myrtleford.
“With the comp, I don’t think there is a hell of a lot of difference between fifth and tenth – just some luck and some depth – so that’s how we’ll be approaching it,” he said.
The Roos won’t measure their season by how they perform against Albury, Lavington and Yarrawonga.
“The top three are probably well above everyone else,” Burgess said.
“Corowa-Rutherglen is trying to place itself in the market to give everyone in the area a pathway opportunity.
“If you want to come into a pathway system, and take some opportunities and work hard on your footy and develop it, you’ve got opportunities to achieve.”
Matching last season’s tally of five wins would be a good result for the Roos as they appear to have lost too much experience to push for finals.
A lot will fall onto the shoulders of veterans Kade Kuschert and Lee Schmidt and how they can nurture the club’s young talent. But this season isn’t the main focus for Burgess, it’s 2017 and beyond.
“There’s plenty of work being done, contacts made and foundations laid,” he said.
“Obviously with the late transition into coaching and consolidating internally first, we are probably behind the eight-ball a bit.
“We’d probably like to try and get another three recruits before the season starts, maybe a key forward and another on-baller, and maybe another experienced key defender.
“We think that will balance the dynamics of the group up and will allow the local boys to develop to their max in another 20 games and another pre-season.”