FERNTREE Gully enters this year's Bendigo Bank Country Week carnival as the defending division one premiers.
But just like last year, the side isn't burdening itself with the weight of any expectations.
Bendigo's Country Week carnival - first held in 1934 - hits off on Monday, with Ferntree Gully, Goulburn Murray, Castlemaine, Gisborne, Murray Valley and Northern Districts to contest division one.
After losing the 2012 grand final to Murray Valley, Ferntree Gully last year went one better when it defeated Goulburn Murray by 53 runs to capture its first division one premiership.
Ferntree Gully will bring a young team to defend its title, including a new captain in all-rounder Nicholas Bogar, who has Premier Cricket experience with Prahran and Hawthorn.
"We've got four coming back from last year... it's a very young team with the squad all aged between 15 and 26," Ferntree Gully general manager Steve Brown said.
The Ferntree Gully side includes Victoria Country opening bowler Cameron Wheeler.
"We didn't have any expectations on the team that went there last year, and we don't have any this year," Brown said.
"As long as the boys put in and have a crack, that's all we can ask."
• Goulburn Murray has unfinished business after failing to capture last year's title.
Goulburn Murray ended the preliminary rounds as the only unbeaten team, but came up short in the grand final against Ferntree Gully when it was bowled out for 166 chasing 7-219.
The side will be captained by former Bendigo player Michael Hill, who is now playing with Cooma.
Also representing Goulburn Murray will be ex-Bendigo United all-rounder Dylan Cuttriss.
"Our division one side is looking fairly strong," Cuttriss said.
"Our league has put a big emphasis on our representative cricket, and it was obviously disappointing last year to get beaten in the grand final, so there's a bit of unfinished business."
Among the Goulburn Murray side will be two players - Liam Gwynne (White Hills) and Adam Ward (Huntly-North Epsom) - who have both played in this season's Bendigo District Cricket Association Twenty20 tournament.
Import Gwynne has scored two centuries for Bamawm-Lockington United this season, while all-rounder Ward has Premier Cricket experience with St Kilda.
"There's a big focus on us going one better than last year, so we're looking forward to it," Cuttriss said.
Goulburn Murray will take on Ferntree Gully on Monday at Bamawm in a day-one grand final rematch.
• For the first time in five years, Murray Valley enters the carnival without the tag as the reigning premiers.
Murray Valley has been a Country Week powerhouse, winning four titles in a row between 2009 and 2012.
However, its superb run came to an end last year when it finished fourth.
"We'll have a young team with a lot of kids this year," Murray Valley board member Matt Haddrell said.
"It's probably more of a development side, but if the kids play to the best of their potential, it will be very strong."
Murray Valley will be captained by Ashley Quinn, who produced a memorable grand final performance in 2012 when he took 7-43 against Ferntree Gully.
The association has a bigger pool of players to pick from this year with the addition of new clubs Deniliquin and Jerilderie.
Murray Valley will be without two of its star players in Shaun Downie and Luke Carter, who both represented Victoria earlier this month at the Australian Country Cricket Championships.
• After narrowly missing a berth in last year's grand final, Gisborne will chase its first division one title since 1982.
"It's a similar squad that we've had in recent years. There's probably nine or 10 players who have been to Bendigo Country Week the past couple of years," Gisborne secretary Rob McIntyre said.
"We've got quite a few all-rounders in the side, but probably our bowling will be our strength."
Gisborne will be skippered by Warren Else.
While bowling shapes as the key for Gisborne, the side has dangerous batsman Kieran Atkin playing. Atkin has scored two centuries for Bacchus Marsh this season, including 149 in a one-day game against St Anthonys last week.
• Castlemaine president Col Lake is confident his side can perform well and improve on last year's one win.
"We've got a really strong team represented each day, so it's coming along nicely," Lake said.
Castlemaine will again be skippered by ex-Kangaroo Flat all-rounder Matt Kile.
"We've got quite a few handy all-rounders in the side," Lake said.
Former Bendigo player John Howorth will line-up for Castlemaine, which won its last division one premiership in 2006, while veteran batsman Jamie Allan is back for another campaign.
Sean Smith and Wayne Stubbings are other Castlemaine players with plenty of Country Week experience who will be playing.
"We're looking forward to hopefully, having a good week," Lake said.
• Northern Districts has earned promotion into division one, taking the place of Benalla.
"We've got a few young blokes who will get a bit of experience out of the week and hopefully, we can be competitive ," Northern Districts captain Greg Dickson said.
Among the players to watch for Northern Districts is batsman Clayton Holmes, who has played some games with Premier Cricket club Fitzroy-Doncaster this season.
Tyler Jones is also a talented batsman, while middle-order batsman Josh Novoselek smashed a 34-ball century earlier this season for his club side, Nondescripts.