THE Bendigo Bank Pioneers are the first Aussie Rules team from central Victoria fighting for premiership points on Saturday.
Bendigo heads to Shepparton for its season-opening clash in the TAC Cup under-18s season against Murray Bushrangers at Deakin Reserve.
The Pioneers squad of 26 includes nine first-year players.
A six-man interchange applies for this round.
Lining up for a third year as Pioneers coach, David Newett believes this summer's pre-season was the best in his time at the club.
"We go into this year with greater endurance and strength across the list," Newett said.
"Every player in our squad has worked hard to increase their fitness, strength and on their skills."
Newett said a key to Bendigo's play would be rapid ball movement.
"We have a lot of versatility in our team to play the Bushrangers."
Lalbert's Jake Maher is the Pioneers new captain.
Action at Shepparton kicks off with the under-16 match at 11am and the under-18s from 1.30pm.