THERE will be a bit more at stake than just four premiership points when North Bendigo and Huntly clash in their HDFNL season opener at Atkins Street on Saturday.
In a season shaping as one of the most competitive in years following some impressive recruiting across the board, the Bulldogs and Hawks will get the chance to build some early momentum.
They will also be playing for the Hayes Simpson Cup.
The trophy, inaugurated in 2004, is contested once a year, with the clubs alternating as hosts and is an extension of the long-standing rivalry shared between the Bulldogs and Hawks, dating back to their days in the former Golden City league.
Huntly holds current bragging rights, having won the trophy in 2017 and retaining it in 2018.
Hawks coach Emily Eliades said the cup was something her team would not relinquish without a fight, as they look to take the first steps to hopeful improvement on last season's fourth-place finish.
"It's going to be tough, every time we think we're ready to step up, the other teams step up as well" she said.
"That makes it really difficult, but at the same time that is what we want. If it's a stronger competition, we are only going to be better for it.
"Into my third year, I am really happy with how we have developed. I feel if we can stay injury free and keep the momentum going, we can be competitive with the top teams."
The Hawks will start the season with an entirely revamped defence, with former Maiden Gully YCW pair Laura Hamilton and Samantha Nelson joining Newbridge recruit Shelby Webster.
Those gains add to a reasonably settled line-up elsewhere, led by last season's league best and fairest runner-up Kym Bell, Ash and Emma Jenkyn, and Stacey Saddlier, who is back following a year off.
Hunty will also unveil a new goal shooter in Chloe Fletcher.
A brilliant off-season for North Bendigo has been topped late in the piece by the recruitment of former BFNL premiership player Rachel McKenzie, who has previously played with a pair of powerhouses in Gisborne and Kangaroo Flat.
She will join the club's other high-profile recruit, former Eaglehawk goal shooter Dayna McGough, to give the Bulldogs one of the league's best goal circle pairings.
Second-year Bulldogs coach Ellena Findlay said her side was coming off a strong pre-season, highlighted by a series of practice matches against Loddon Valley league club Newbridge, which opened its season last Saturday's stunning win over last season's grand finalist Calivil United.
"Obviously in those practice matches both sides were missing players at different stages, but when we had full teams they were really good hit-outs," she said.
"It's good to know they did so well last week and especially against Calivil, who we know are a really good team.
"Hopefully that's a good sign for us.
"We were pretty close to Huntly last year, but they have picked up some good recruits as well, so it will be an interesting game."
In other games, Leitchville-Gunbower, under new coach Sammi Drover, gets its season under-way against Mount Pleasant, Lockington Bamawm United will look to rebound from its defeat against White Hills last week when it clashes with Heathcote, and Elmore hosts Colbinabbin.
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