The Bendigo Thunder’s days of handing out beltings in the Victorian Women’s Football League look to be over.
Last season, the second-year team regularly thumped weaker north-west division sides on its way to its first premiership.
But a restructure into two divisions of six teams aims to promote more even competition.
The Thunder will play in north-west division one in 2013, alongside the other four best teams from last year – La Trobe Uni, North Geelong, North Ballarat and Altona – while Sunbury has dropped down from premier reserve.
“It will be good for us, it will push us further,” Thunder general manager Bianca Rinaldi said.
“It’s a chance to really test ourselves and improve hopefully. It’s a bit of a step to where things may end up.”
The Thunder is looking to add a reserves team in coming years, before a possible step up in competition.
“We’re preparing ourselves, we definitely want a seconds team,” Rinaldi said.
Bendigo has had about 30 players regularly attending pre-season training and expects more as the April 7 season-opener approaches.
Most of last season’s squad have returned, but losses include key defenders Lil Waters and Ange Foley – who was best on ground in the 15-point grand final win against La Trobe.
Faith Bentley, Bree Martin and Phoebe Smith are also no longer at the club, but Rinaldi expects the Thunder to once again challenge for the flag this season.
“I do expect to, it comes down to our ability to develop players who are good quality,” she said.
“You don’t have a team based on one or two good players, but of course it’s going to leave a bit of a hole.
“Everyone else just has to step up, we have to step up our ability and skill with the rest of the group.
“We’ve got practice matches coming up where we’ll be able to test players. We’re setting ourselves on and off the field to really strengthen the depth right across the club.”
The Thunder will have its first hit-out in a day of round-robin clashes with La Trobe, Sunbury and North Ballarat in Melbourne on March 17.
Meanwhile, the club has signed Craig Riddiford as assistant coach after captain Emma Wolters stepped down to focus on playing.
Anyone interested in playing for the Thunder can try-out at pre-season training at J.L. King Weeroona Oval on Monday and Wednesday evenings from 6pm or call Rinaldi on 0413 231 258 for more information.