Corowa-Rutherglen hit the comeback trail in earnest on Friday, September 8, when the club unveiled its first two recruits since going into recess.
Darcy Hope and Connor Leslie have joined from Karingal in the Mornington Peninsula League and the Roos are on the verge of clinching more signatures towards their Ovens and Murray return in 2024.
Hope is a powerful forward (190cm, 100kg) who made Team of the Year not only in the MPFNL but also the Northern Territory Football League for 2022/23 after booting 40 goals in 19 games for Waratah.
Meanwhile, Leslie is a strong-bodied midfielder who was Karingal vice-captain and previously came through the Calder Cannons system.
The pair are Steve Owen's first recruits since he succeeded Peter German as coach last December and the ex-Geelong man is thrilled to have the first pieces fitted into the jigsaw of his new-look side for next season.
"We're absolutely stoked," Owen said.
"Darcy has family connections to the Corowa region and he's just finished up with Karingal this year.
"He's a very powerful full-forward or centre half-forward who has the flexibility to go down back and through the ruck.
"We first saw Darcy up in Darwin where he was named in the Team of the Year at centre half-forward and played in the representative side up there.
"With all the players we're speaking to, yes, we want them to be handy footballers but we're looking for really good people and good character and Darcy definitely ticks those boxes.
"He comes from a good family background so he's going to fit in really well at the club.
"As for his footballing abilities, having a key focal point down in the forward line always helps.
"He's got some of the biggest hands I've seen and he's got a very good leap on him."
Hope also had a spell at Pakenham before booting 83 goals in the last two seasons for Karingal, while Leslie played more than 50 senior games for the Bulls after crossing from Whittlesea in the Northern Football Netball League.
"Connor is very smooth through the midfield and he has good size to him," Owen said.
"From the people we've spoken to down there and from our meetings with him, the leadership qualities are very obvious to see in Connor.
"He's a very impressive young man and his leadership will be crucial.
"We haven't hidden away from the fact we want to get all our 18 to 21-year-olds back to the club because they're going to be the nucleus of our squad.
"But we need to make sure we have the likes of Connor there to support them.
"Making sure the footballer is of the right character is critical for us."
The search for players started even before the Roos members voted in February not to field senior teams in the O and M this season following a major player exodus over the summer.
"There has been an extensive amount of work done by the whole footy department at the club so it is a relief to get the first signatures and we intend to release more names in the coming weeks," Owen said.
"Some of the potential recruits we're talking to are still playing in finals around the state so we're supporting them in their finals quest for this year and then once their footy finishes up, we hope to be able to roll them out.
"We're looking everywhere, throughout Victoria and interstate, but we're definitely focusing on local players.
"I don't think our long-term stability can be based on bringing in 18-20 players from Melbourne, we need to build a core group of local players and then bring in some recruits from outside the area to top them up."
Owen accepts there will still be sceptics who question Corowa-Rutherglen's ability to be on the start line for round one next year given they are having to build a list from scratch - but his message is clear.
"We will be back next year and it's going to be exciting for the town and the league to have Corowa running back out in 2024," Owen said.
"You do hear a lot of the talk and it is an enormous task.
"It hasn't really been done before, the fact that there were multiple reasons why the club had to shut its doors.
"But Darcy and Connor are going to be very popular with our supporters - and this is just the start.
"Darcy definitely has that X-Factor about him, cult figure capabilities, and Connor's going to be one of those guys who does everything really well for us.
"The fact these two have played together makes me really excited to see them link up in our side next year."
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