Five intriguing matches to open the BFNL season.
EAGLEHAWK v STRATHFIELDSAYE
2.15pm at Tannery Lane
New Eaglehawk coach Travis Matheson gets a baptism of fire on Saturday in his BFNL coaching debut.
There's arguably no harder task in Bendigo footy than playing Strathfieldsaye at Tannery Lane. On top of that the Storm will be hungry to gain some sort of revenge for last year's grand final loss to the Borough.
Matheson will coach from the sidelines as he continues his rehab from shoulder surgery, but a number of the Borough's key recruits will pull on the two blues jumper.
Midfielders Ryan Gillingham and Jarryd Pertzel, defender Clayton Holmes and ruckman/forward Richard Tibbett are additions to the senior side.
Despite the absence of injured premiership players Jack Fallon and Shaun Knott, Matheson likes the look of his round one side.
"All the boys have ticked the boxes between November and now to give themselves the opportunity to play round one,'' Matheson said.
"We still have a few boys out with injuries so there's plenty of competition for spots which is good.
"The boys who are playing tomorrow have earned their spot."
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The Storm could be without star player Kallen Geary because of a quad injury.
Harry Conway and Caeleb Sheahan are the new players into their squad from last year.
"I caught one of Strathfieldsaye's practice games and they look very strong,'' Matheson said.
"Our number one focus will be executing things that we put into our game over pre-season and we'll make adjustments on the day if need be."
All eyes will be on Storm forward Lachlan Sharp who returns to action after a wretched run with injuries.
Young Eaglehawk defender Lachlan Atherton has done a solid job on Sharp in the past and is expected to get first crack at the mercurial left-footer.
"Lachy is one of the the players we could throw at Sharpy,''Matheson said.
"Sharpy is such a good player, so we have a couple of plans up our sleeve to try and stop him."
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SOUTH BENDIGO v MARYBOROUGH
2.15pm at QEO
The season-opener for the Bloods and Magpies will centre around one man - Stewart Crameri.
The former Essendon, Western Bulldogs and Geelong forward returns to his home club Maryborough.
He'll line up deep inside forward 50 and give the Magpies a much-needed focal point.
Crameri's return to the Magpies alongside Matt Bilton and the recruitment of Lachlan Butler, Lachlan Crameri and Liam Latch does give the Magpies a more potent look.
Saturday's game also marks the first match in the BFNL for new South Bendigo coach Nathan Horbury.
The former Ballarat inter-league representative is a genuine top-shelf midfielder.
He'll carry a big reponsibility in a South Bendigo side that, on paper, looks inferior to 2018.
CASTLEMAINE v GISBORNE
5.30pm at Camp Reserve
Like Crameri at the QEO, all eyes at Camp Reserve will be on another ex-AFL star.
Former Essendon and Port Adelaide forward Angus Monfries will pull on the boots for Castlemaine.
Monfies headlines a host of new recruits for a Castlemaine side trying to improve significantly on last year's wooden spoon effort.
Saturday night's opener is tough for the Magpies. They face a Gisborne side that has all the makings of a top three side.
Gisborne will be without playing coach Clinton Young, who is unavailable.
Gisborne and BFNL great Luke Saunders is back at the Bulldogs as an assistant coach and he'll take the reins on Saturday night.
"Like any round one you're a bit unsure how it's going to go, but all you can do is pay the ultimate respect to your opponent and that's what the boys have done in the past couple of weeks,'' Saunders said.
"With Youngy being away the players have shown great maturity in the way they've prepared for the game."
Gisborne will unveil highly-talented recruit Brad Bernacki, while former GWS and Melbourne Pat McKenna is back at his home club.
How far Gisborne can go in 2019 will hingle largely on the improvement of its young players.
"Those boys will take another step because you can see how much harder they're working at training and the internal pressure for getting a game has increased,'' Saunders said.
"That's been building for a few years. The decision the committee made a few years ago to make a stand and really commit to the local community has developed the club.
"It's inevitable they'll get some type of success in the future, but to what level I'm not sure.
"They're a tight group and they're a capable group, but playing footy is tough, so we'll see how far they can go."
KANGAROO FLAT v SANDHURST
5.30pm at Dower Park
Two new coaches at BFNL level go head-to-head in round one at Dower Park.
Kangaroo Flat's Rob Bennett and Sandhurst's Ashley Connick take over their respective clubs having enjoyed premiership success in other leagues in the past.
There's plenty of positive vibes echoing out of Dower Park.
Recruits Matthew Clifford, Scott Jansen, Hayden Pyke and Daniel Rees have settled in well and there's been improvement from young key position players Nathan McHugh and Dylan Klemm.
The Roos' star recruit - former Subiaco full-forward Matt Boland - won't make his debut with the club until round four against Kyneton.
"We could have played a couple of more young guys, but we think we have the right balance between youth and experience at the moment,'' Bennett said.
"We'll blood more young players throughout the year.
"I can't fault the way the new players have settled in. They've worked hard on the track and embraced the culture we're trying to instill."
The Dragons received a timely boost on the eve of round one, with premiership player Lachlan Tardrew free to play against the Roos.
Tardrew wasn't required by Collingwood's VFL team for Friday night's clash with Footscray.
"Daniel Wells has come beack for Collingwood and they have a couple of Irish players in the VFL side, so AFL-listed players get priority and Lachy is back with us,'' Connick said.
"It's great for us to have a homegrown talent back at the club. He's a terrific player who has played at a high level.
"We'll welcome him back with open arms when he's available."
Lee Coghlan (knee) is out for the season, while recruits Joel Condon and Marc Millard are the only senior Dragons unavailable becvause of injuries.
KYNETON v GOLDEN SQUARE
5.30pm at Kyneton Showgrounds
Golden Square coach Bernie Haberman is reading little into Kyneton's off-season troubles.
The Tigers lost 14 senior players in the off-season, but that matters little to Haberman.
"Kyneton's top-end talent is really good and I'm sure they'll continue to produce good footy,'' Haberman said.
"Our top-end talent is at least equally as good and both teams will have a lot of kids playing.
"Our improvement is going to come from our kids rather than our top-end talent.
"How much the young players step up is the unknown, but we're confident that they will make improvement."
The Bulldogs have added former Bendigo Pioneers and Kyabram star Liam Barrett to the mix, while the biggest inclusion to the Kyneton line-up, in terms of status and size, is club great Nathan Thompson.
The former Hawthorn and North Melbourne big man will line up at full-forward for the Tigers.
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