AFTER finishing fifth last year, Tallangatta coach Tyson Smith knew he had the nucleus of a side capable of challenging for the flag.
And after a productive off-season, signing Wodonga duo Bob Russell, Khyle Goodman and Federal's Tom McKimmie, the Hoppers appeared to be firmly in the premiership window before COVID-19 hit.
Smith spoke to The Border Mail this week about his recruits and where he feels the Hoppers can improve most.
BRENT GODDE: What are some of the biggest issues clubs face after having 12 months off?
TYSON SMITH: I just tried to focus on keeping the group connected so blokes wouldn't drift apart. We just played a bit of basketball, had a hit of golf and tried to stay connected through social media to overcome the restrictions.
BG: What have you got planned for the pre-season?
TS: We started in early November and have been training two nights a week. The numbers have been excellent.
IN OTHER NEWS
BG: You landed a few high-profile signings over the off season in Bob Russell, Khyle Goodman alongside Federal recruit Tom McKimmie. Are you confident of retaining your list?
TS: I'm confident of keeping our list intact. We had a massive pre-season this year and built a lot of momentum ahead of the season but obviously didn't get to play. But I think the positive is it has fuelled everybody's hunger for success which has shown with the numbers at training.
BG: Would it be fair to say before the season was scrapped it was shaping as the most competitive in several seasons?
TS: It's hard to say but Thurgoona had lost a few of its premiership players and maybe weren't going to be as dominant. The top-five did appear even but you never know until you start playing I guess.
BG: Do you think the salary cap being slashed for $80,000 to $65,000 will have much effect on clubs?
TS: I would like to think after what's happened this year that most players in the bush play for the social aspect and not the financial. I think my blokes are just looking forward to getting back and having a kick with their mates.
BG: A lot of rival clubs predict Tallangatta as the side to beat. Is that a fair assessment?
TS: It's hard to say but we have got a hungry group and some talented kids emerging through the junior ranks. I thought our lack of depth was our Achilles heel last year and we have tried to address that. We just want to have a red-hot crack and see where it takes us.
BG: Your thirds won the flag last season?
TS: The club has put a lot of effort into developing the kids and we hope to reap the rewards in the next few seasons.