THE Bendigo Football League's push to climb back up the AFL Victoria Country rankings has begun with the first inter-league training session on Wednesday night.
The squad gathered for the first time under new coach Rick Ladson at Kangaroo Flat to begin preparations for its inter-league showdown with Gippsland at the Queen Elizabeth Oval on May 24.
The BFL this week unveiled a monster-sized training squad of 73, which equates to a quarter of the 286 players who have played a senior game this season being selected.
"It's a big squad, but that will obviously dwindle with players pulling out through injury and availability and so forth," Ladson said on Wednesday.
"We put it to all the clubs to put forward their top five players, and we then added a few as well, which is why some clubs have a stronger contingent of players in the squad than others.
"There's plenty of fresh faces and everyone is a chance to have a crack in a few weeks.
"Obviously, form will play a part in selection, but it's as much going to be about guys who want to get along to training and show they are really keen to represent Bendigo... that's a good way to get on the right side of the coach."
Strathfieldsaye has the most players represented in the squad with 13, followed by 10 each at Sandhurst and Golden Square.
Castlemaine - which didn't nominate any players - is the only club without a player in the inter-league squad.
Bendigo enters this year's inter-league campaign ranked No.7 after losing to Ballarat last year when it paid the price for missed chances at goal early and lost by 23 points.
Gippsland is at No.8, with this to be the third time since 2010 the two leagues have met at the QEO.
Bendigo has won both of the recent meetings against Gippsland by 23 points (2012) and nine points (2010).
"As a league, we want to be getting up towards the top of the rankings so that players want to come to our league for reasons other than just money," Ladson said.
"We're well aware that if we drop this game we'll slide down the rankings, but we're also trying to build a group of players who will, hopefully, stick around and be our next crop who will get us back to where we need to be."