NORTH Bendigo enters the upcoming Heathcote District league season with only half its premiership team remaining from 2019.
Despite the high turnover of quality players - particularly forward of centre - coach Matt Dillon remains bullish about his side's chances of again being where the club has spent the majority of the past decade: at the pointy end of the ladder.
"We've probably hit the stage where a lot of the players we've lost are on the cusp of 30 and have been able to fill their boots through a successful time for the club," Dillon said.
"With what we've lost, we feel we've replaced like-for-like in a lot of positions, but I can see why there's a bit of unknown about us.
"Internally, though, we believe we can stay up there and be very competitive with what's going to be a really new side."
Given last year's cancelled 2020 season, the Bulldogs are still carrying the tag as the reigning premiers after beating Colbinabbin by 36 points in the 2019 grand final in what was the power club's sixth-straight flag decider.
Since winning the flag though the Bulldogs have lost Brady Herdman, Darcy Richards, former skipper Jarrod Findlay, Jake Hyland, Ben Knight, Zach Alford, Callum Tardrew, reigning Cheatley medallist Joel Helman, Tyson Findlay, Will Brohm and Jack Donat, who were all part of the grand final triumph, while Jordan Collins and Billy Robertson have also moved on.
The list of departures far outweighs the number of arrivals to the Bulldogs, with seven recruits for the club - Andrew Chalkley, Clay Davies, Jaran McKay, Sam Demeo, Dylan Klemm, Harry O'Meara and Koe Ngawati.
One of the big queries over the Bulldogs this year will be their potency in attack given they have lost their top six goalkickers of 2019 - Herdman (67), Alford (37), Richards (36), Knight (27), Jarrod Findlay (24) and Helman (20).
The key addition to the front half is strong-marking athletic forward Klemm from Kangaroo Flat, while the return of Sam Demeo, a premiership player with the club, to defence is likely to free up Shane Harris to move to attack.
The Bulldogs - who have the most imposing home ground advantage in the competition having not lost at Atkins Street since 2015 - also boast one of the competition's star swingmen in renowned defender Jordan Ford, who has been best-on-ground in a grand final playing as a forward.
"With our midfield we think Clay Davies, Koe Ngawati and Harry O'Meara will add some A Grade class in there," Dillon said.
"We think Koe will be a good replacement for Joel Helman and Harry will be able to play the role that Jarrod Findlay did for us.
"Then you've got Andrew Chalkley and Jaran McKay probably starting forward and being relievers on-ball. Plus there will be opportunities for guys like Storm Giri to spend more time on-ball and someone like Aarryn Craig, who we've had the luxury of playing off half-back probably becomes a primary on-baller now.
"We know it's a new-look side and we think that's really exciting for the club.
"There's a bit of unknown there, but we think we've got a lot of really good talent coming in, which we had to get because we've lost a lot of talent, too."
NORTH BENDIGO FIXTURE:
Round 1 - v Huntly (h)
Round 2 - v Leitchville-Gunbower (a)
Round 3 - v White Hills (h)
Round 4 - Bye
Round 5 - v Heathcote (a)
Round 6 - v Colbinabbin (h)
Round 7 - v Mount Pleasant (a)
Round 8 - v Elmore (h)
Round 9 - v LBU (a)
Round 10 - v Huntly (a)
Round 11 - v Leitchville-Gunbower (h)
Round 12 - v White Hills (a)
Round 13 - Bye
Round 14 - v Heathcote (h)
Round 15 - v Colbinabbin (a)
Round 16 - v Mount Pleasant (h)
Round 17 - v Elmore (a)
Round 18 - v LBU (h)
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