IT'S business as usual for Sandhurst as the reigning BFNL A-grade netball premiers count down the days to the start of their championship defence.
The Dragons, who start their 2021 campaign a week earlier than most clubs with a Good Friday clash against Strathfieldsaye, will be chasing history this season.
Following a flag three-peat from 2017-19, Sandhurst will be aiming to become the first club to notch-up four-straight A-grade flags.
The Dragons are the only club to have even gotten close to that mark, racking up a trio of straight premierships from 2005 to 2007.
While some clubs have been extremely active on the recruiting front, it's been more of a steady as she goes approach from the Dragons, who have lost star centre Brianna Dalrymple-Monro and defender Carly Van Den Heuvel from their 2019 premiership line-up.
Two-time Betty Thompson medallist Dalrymple-Monro has jumped ship to Loddon Valley league club Bridgewater, while Van Den Heuvel has joined a stellar cast of recruits at the Dragons' 2019 grand final rival Kangaroo Flat.
The Dragons will head into the season with two fresh, albeit not exactly new, faces in their line-up, welcoming back star goal attack Kelsey Meade after a season off in 2019 and elevating state squad member Ruby Turner as a more permanent fixture.
Three-time premiership coach Tamara Gilchrist, who will fly solo in 2021 after sharing the duties with on-court star and two-time Betty Thompson medallist Heather Oliver for the past three seasons, is convinced the Dragons will have lost none of their hunger and potency as a result of the changes.
"There's a really good opportunity for Ruby Turner to step up after missing out last year due to COVID, and we're fortunate to have Kelsey Meade back on court this year," she said.
"With a fairly unchanged team throughout the premiership period, hopefully, this is a year we give opportunities to a few of the up-and-coming youngsters.
"There are some kids from the 17s stepping up into seniors, who missed out last year (due to COVID), and there is some really great talent there as well in the A-reserve when we need players to step up."
The return of Meade - a two-time premiership player and a member of the BFNL's 2010-19 netball team of the decade - renews her formidable shooting partnership with Rebecca Smith.
As to be expected from a team, which has dominated the competition like no other over three-straight seasons, the Dragons have been the league's highest-scoring team in each of those premiership years.
A highlight of the Dragons' premiership era has been the elite play of the squad's youngest members, headed by their captain Meg Williams and defenders Sophie Shoebridge and Imogen Sexton, who is the club's reigning best and fairest winner.
In 2021, they will get to add another rising star in Turner to an imposing talent mix, which is equally blessed with plenty of experience, led by dual Betty Thompson medallist Oliver, Meade, Smith and Erica Dalrymple-Monro.
A dominant 2019 season for the Dragons, who lost just two games, was reflected at the league's best and fairest count.
Williams finished equal third with 18 votes, six behind the winner Ash Ryan, who has switched from Eaglehawk to Kangaroo Flat this season, while Sexton finished equal sixth with 15, Oliver polled 11, Shoebridge nine and Smith eight.
Gilchrist said the pre-season, which kicked-off in January, had been intentionally low-key.
"We just like to get on with it and let our netball do the talking really," she said.
"I guess the way we look at it is we train hard and we do a lot of hard work on the court, but it pays off for us.
"Four-in-a-row would be a dream, that's the ultimate goal we are working towards, but we have to focus as a group. To be honest, we are just happy to be back out on the court and playing netball again.
"That normality of being able to play and enjoy our netball again is a big thing for us."
A big off-season on the recruiting front from some of their main rivals has not gone unnoticed at Sandhurst.
"Kangaroo Flat looks like they're really pushing the envelope this year and will definitely be a force," Gilchrist said.
"South too looks very committed and have been at it a long time (through pre-season).
"For us, this is the fifth year with a pretty settled core group, so there's something going right here."
An exciting season for the Dragons will see their A-reserve team chasing back-to-back flags, while their 17-and-under team, who will this season be coached by Beck Mullen, will be shooting for an incredible four-straight flags like the A-grade team.
Four-in-a-row would be a dream, that's the ultimate goal we are working towards.Tamara Gilchrist
A RECAP OF THE DRAGONS' PREMIERSHIP THREE-PEAT:
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