Wangaratta Rovers were the surprise packets last season, pushing from a winless wooden spoon to the edge of finals. Can they take that next step?
Ryan Stone (Heidelberg), Tyson Hartwig (Doncaster), Ben Talarico (Holbrook), Tyrone Armitage (Manly Warringah), Jamason Daniels, Charlie Hill (Tatura), Matt Ivill (Euroa), Xavier Naish (Old Ivanhoe Grammar), Ben McIntosh (Albury), Elijah Amery (Lavington), Kyle Veerhuis (Camden)
Will Christie (Geelong VFL), Chris Knowles (Moyhu), Matt Medcraft (uncertain), Tom McCaffrey (Casey Scorpions, VFL)
Alex Marklew, Max Spencer, Ryan Hebron (Werribee), Charlie Thompson, Nathan Cooper (Richmond), Sam and Nick Murray (Williamstown), Michael Manteit (Sandringham), Dylan Stone (Box Hill)
HOW GOOD COULD ROVERS' BEST 21 BE?
Grand finalists. The Hawks have nine VFL-listed players. Werribee has the round one bye at State level, so if the club allows Alex Marklew, former AFL player Max Spencer and two-time NEAFL Team of the Year defender Ryan Hebron to play against Yarrawonga, the Hawks would go from even money to favourites. Same for round two when Richmond has the Easter bye and Rovers face a massive game away to Myrtleford with the prospect of Charlie Thompson and Nathan Cooper availability. Of course, under the points system (Rovers have 40), the Hawks won't be able to fit everyone in. Rovers' recruiting and points have been two major talking points over the last two off-seasons, but at least they're back in the news after being largely forgotten. It will be intriguing to see who can play and when, but the trick for the rest of the squad will be forgetting who might come in and out and just play.
LAST YEAR, THE HAWKS HAD 11 GAMES DECIDED BY 18 POINTS OR LESS, WINNING FIVE, WHAT WILL THEY HAVE LEARNT FROM THAT?
Hopefully it will have driven them over summer, just trying to find that little extra that could be the difference this year. There were a couple of gut-wrenchers among that, including the round 11 clash where Albury trailed by 29 points midway through the second term after landing one goal. Chris Hyde kicked a 40m goal late in third term and that stole some momentum. Rovers were developing last year, but there's no excuses now.
WILL FORMER CAPTAIN TYSON HARTWIG BE AS GOOD AS LAST YEAR'S FULLBACK NATHAN COOPER?
Probably not, but neither he should as he's a decade older. Cooper turned 22 at the end of the year, while Hartwig turns 32 in April. At his peak, Hartwig was the league's best fullback, but they don't necessarily need him to be that player. It's a catchphrase, but playing a role is what it's about and he just needs to perform his role - shutting down his opponent, drifting off to help a team-mate etc.
MORE FOOTY FORM:Myrtleford heads into the competition as the team to beat
ALSO IN SPORT:
Q&A with Ky Williamson
Q: You played 13 games last year, but I thought you improved rapidly in the last six, featuring in the best four times, is that a fair call?
Definitely, my confidence rose a bit and then I started to find the footy a bit more.
Q: Where did that confidence come from?
It just came from taking the game on and probably 'Crezza' (coach Daryn Cresswell) told me, 'don't be afraid to take the game on'.
Q: 'Crezza' has often spoken about his players playing "eyes up" footy, acting on instinct.
He drives us at training to take the game on and if somebody makes a mistake, he never gets cranky, he encourages us, it's good and it certainly helps our footy.
Q: The club almost became the first to go from a winless wooden spoon to finals the following year, but missed out on percentage. The stumbling block was the thrilling losses, where the club had a five-six win-loss record in games of 18 points or less, how do you look back on that run?
From the couple of years before that, we were a bottom side so I think it was just a lack of experience, we didn't know how to win games. In the tight games, we didn't have the composure at the end, I think that's what it came down to.