THERE are nine rookies in the Bendigo Bank Pioneers squad for Saturday's start to the TAC Cup under-18s football season.
Bendigo heads north to Shepparton's Deakin Reserve to tackle Murray Bushrangers.
First-year players in the squad of 26 include Sandhurst's James Coghlan; Swan Hill's Arnold Kirby; Lake Boga's Matt Pickering; Eaglehawk's Jack Lawton; and Leitchville-Gunbower's Marty Hore.
Also in the running for their AFL Victoria TAC Cup debut are Jayden Fox from Mildura Imperials; Rochester's Jed Brain, Liam McGlashan from Red Cliffs; and South Mildura's Ryley Barrack.
Lining up for a third season as Pioneers coach, David Newett said the play of the second-year players would be a key to a first-up victory.
"Pre-season's been excellent in terms of building endurance, strength, and working on skills," said Newett.
"We played Murray in a trial match at Epsom-Huntly a couple of weeks ago, so we know something about their key players.
"The Bushrangers have some quality key forwards, so it will be important to limit supply, or to pressure them going into attack."
Newett said a major focus for the Pioneers was on quick transition from defence to attack.
"Our work in contests and when we have possession will be really important, especially on a big ground."
In the midfield, Bendigo has Maryborough's Bailey Edwards, Kennington-Sandhurst's Billy Evans, and Kerang's Jaden McGrath.
"There's a lot of running power and skill in our midfield, but Murray also has classy midfielders."
A star in last year's under-16s carnival, Edwards wore No. 42 in his games for the Pioneers late in the 2013 campaign.