North Albury defied the doomsayers last year who predicted the Hoppers wouldn't win a match. Can they make further inroads up the ladder this season?
Jacob Smith (Werribee Districts), Jack Furlong, Eamon Gilbert (Bundoora), Ethan Bakic, Mitchell McLeod, Callum Pattison, Daniel Pattison, Ben Thomas (Lavington), Jack Cullen (Coleambally), Adam Whyte (Marrar)
David Miles (Howlong), Simon Hillier (Henty), Ned McKeown (Macleod), Joel Roberson (Melbourne amateurs)
Tyler Young (Frankston)
QUESTION AND ANSWER WITH RYAN POLKINGHORNE
Q: You have been named co-captain this season alongside George Godde. No doubt a huge honour for you?
A: It's definitely an honour and I realise that I have got big shoes to fill. David Miles and Dan Leslie have been our past two captains and have set the bar high as far as leadership and performance.
Q: You have played more than 100 matches and initially played as a tagger before switching to a wing last year. What role do you expect to play this season?
A: I've been playing predominantly off half-back in the practice matches so I will probably start the season there and see what happens after that.
Q: Being able to lure games record-holder Dan Leslie back to the club for a match-day role is a coup for the club?
A: It's awesome to have Dan back and his experience will benefit our young list and he is just so well respected around the club.
Q: This time last year nobody expected the Hoppers to win a match and the club won three. What are your expectations this season?
A: We will win more than three this season. We have gone to another level and you can see from training and our practice matches we are a step above from last year and expect to win more matches. With our recruits we boast a better list as well which obviously helps.
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WHAT LIES AHEAD
COACH ISAAC MULLER FACED A BAPTISM OF FIRE AS A ROOKIE COACH LAST SEASON. WILL HE BE BETTER FOR THE EXPERIENCE?
There is no doubt after being the youngest coach appointed in league history last season that Muller will be better for the experience. Importantly the Hoppers' hierarchy identified that Muller needed additional support on match-day and were able to lure favourite son Dan Leslie back to Bunton Park as an assistant coach. Leslie is expected to handle a lot of the coaching duties on match-day and allow Muller to focus on playing and leading by example on the field.
CAN THE HOPPERS IMPROVE THIS SEASON AFTER FINISHING EIGHTH?
The good news for Hopper fans is that after a productive off-season on the recruiting front they will boast a significantly stronger list this season. The bad news is, so will the majority of their rivals and it's hard to pinpoint where the Hoppers can pinch a few extra wins. While they will fancy their chances against Wodonga and Corowa-Rutherglen, the Hoppers will be the underdog in their remaining matches and will have to notch several upsets if they are to climb the ladder.
A LACK OF FIREPOWER HURT THE HOPPERS LAST SEASON. WHERE CAN THE IMPROVEMENT COME FROM THIS YEAR?
Key forward Josh Lloyd and former Carlton player Clem Smith loom at the Hoppers' two most dangerous forwards. After showing plenty of potential in the O&M, coaching staff have been amazed by Lloyd's change in attitude with the athletic tall embracing his role in the leadership group. Lloyd booted 23 goals last season but can kick 50 plus this year with the Hoppers' midfield recruits adding some class and better delivery. Smith has dropped more than 10kg's over the summer and is like a recruit after only playing six matches last season. You don't fluke getting onto an AFL list and there is no doubt Smith could be a serious X-factor for the Hoppers when fit and firing. 40 goals plus as a small forward is realistic.