REIGNING premier Sandhurst, runners-up Gisborne, Eaglehawk and South Bendigo have struck the first blows in a powerful Bendigo Football Netball League 17-and-under competition.
The Dragons, under 2018 premiership coach Rose Gallagher and Paul McConnachie, again showed they would be the team to watch in 2019 after a convincing 64-24 victory at Kangaroo Flat on Saturday.
Gisborne, coached by A-grade star Maddy Stewart, showed it had lost none of its strength with a 76-15 win against Castlemaine, while South Bendigo - a semi-finalist in 2018 - got its season off to a great start with a 66-33 win at Maryborough.
At Strathfieldsaye, Eaglehawk took the first steps towards likely improvement with a thrilling 48-44 win over the Storm in the weekend's closest game.
The four-goal victory was a success for the new Hawks coaching duo of Shannon Dean and Simone Foster, who were quick to praise their girls' thorough preparation to the season.
"We always knew coming up against Strath was going to be a fight," Dean said.
"Our girls have had a really solid pre-season - we have done a lot of our pre-season with our seniors and they have come a long way.
"The pleasing thing was we took two new girls (Serryn Eenjes and Cassie Broad) into the season and the rest have come through development, so there is a really solid foundation there.
"For us, the first game was a lot about bringing everyone up to speed and getting those initial nerves out. By the end of the game they had settled and really started firing."
The Hawks entered the weekend with four carryover players from last season, including Jasmine Concliffe, who was equal fourth in last year's league best and fairest award won by Kangaroo Flat's Ella Wicks, and current BFNL 17-and-under squad member Arriah Keogh.
The win over the Storm was only the start of a busy day for former Hawks development squad player Rylee Gallagher, who played in an A-grade win for her original Loddon Valley league club Calivil United later in the day.
While encouraged by the first-up performance, wins will not be the be-all and end-all for Foster and Dean, whose primary emphasis is on player development.
That focus follows a successful 2018 season for the Hawks in the junior grades, with four of its development teams winning Bendigo Strathdale Netball Association flags.
"With the 17s it's hard to say whether you will or won't be a finals team, but Shannon and I both agree that the development of the girls is a lot more important, Foster said.
"Yes everyone wants to play finals, but that's not what we are hanging our hats on.
"We'd like to think we are in the mix, but there some super-strong teams in this competition. Our aim for this season is to get our girls - lot of them who are going up to seniors next year - up to standard and working on their individual improvement and then gelling as a team."
Eaglehawk will look to continue its good form against South Bendigo at Canterbury Park on Good Friday.
The Hawks and Bloods will be reasonably familiar with each others's game having met a couple of times in pre-season tournaments this year.
Dean identified court structure and ball movement from defence as areas the Hawks would be seeking improvement on.
Meanwhile, Golden Square had a round one bye, with Kyneton not fielding a 17-and-under team.
In other games this weekend, Sandhurst hosts Strathfieldsaye and Maryborough clashes with Castlemaine on Friday, while Golden Square and Kangaroo Flat do battle at Wade Street on Saturday.
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Gisborne has the bye and will return to action against Kangaroo Flat on April 27.