DESPITE being outscored 40 goals to three in its four grading games, the Bendigo Thunder has been included in division one of the Northern Football League Women's competition this year.
The Thunder has won the past two NFLW flags, but the club has experienced an exodus of players to the extent that it is now fielding just one team this season as opposed to last year's two and only has four premiership players left on its list.
Of last year's grand final team that defeated Keilor by 39 points, only Jessica Ross, Bianca Jones, Carly Isaac and Hannah Perry are playing with the Thunder again this year.
The new-look Thunder team was beaten heavily in its first three grading games by VU Western Spurs (99-0), Diamond Creek (62-6) and Montmorency (89-1), but was much more competitive last week in a 20-15 loss to Bundoora at the QEO.
The results of the four grading games will carry over into the 10-round season proper, which starts next week for the Thunder with a home game against Diamond Creek.
"It's a totally different group and our on-field goals are obviously a bit different this year... it's about having fun and teaching the girls," Thunder coach Luis Alvarez-Harris said this week.
"We've debuted a lot of new girls, some of whom have never played football before. The feedback so far is everyone is really enjoying it and it's a good place to be, so that's a positive.
"The result last weekend was encouraging. We had a lot of the play in the last quarter, but couldn't get that extra goal we needed to get over the line."
Also competing in division one of the NFWL this year are Darebin, West Preston-Lakeside, Montmorency, VU Western Spurs, Diamond Creek and Bundoora.
Meanwhile, the Thunder has three players who have made the NFLW representative team to play AFL Barwon in Geelong on Saturday.
The NFLW team of 25 includes the Thunder trio of Jones, Georgia Gordon and Ayrlea Bailey-McClanahan, who is captaining Bendigo this year.
* Bendigo Thunder season fixture:
May 26 - v Diamond Creek
June 2 - v Montmorency
June 16 - v VU Western Spurs
June 30 - v Darebin
July 14 - v West Preston-Lakeside
July 21 - v Darebin
July 28 - v West Preston-Lakeside
August 4 - v Bundoora
Have you signed up to the Bendigo Advertiser's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in central Victoria.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.