An injection of speed and midfield ball winners has Golden Square coach Chris Carter confident his team can take a step forward in 2022.
The Bulldogs were right in the hunt for the 2021 premiership before the season was cancelled.
While Carter stopped short of declaring the 2022 Bulldogs a better premiership hope, he said Golden Square has more depth and flexibility this season.
Former Bendigo Pioneers' duo Jack Hickman and Ricky Monti add some speed and skill to the midfield/small forward brigade, Liam Jacques and Jarrod Fitzpatrick are proven ball winners in the middle of the ground.
Mitch Knox, a former Golden Square junior, returns to the club and will play off half-back or through the middle, while half-back Nick Ross joins the Dogs from Lancaster.
The club's only outs are Zane Keighran and Harry Donegan.
"We're stoked with our retention,'' Carter said.
"To only lose two players and pick up some quality additions is great for the club.
"Having Monti and Hickman full-time, adding in Jacques and Fitzpatrick as well...there's probably 10 players that could easily go through our midfield rotations.
"Jake Thrum, who missed a lot of footy last year, will go through there and there's a couple of young guys that we've given opportunities to in the practice matches that have really stood up.
"The midfield depth will be pretty important for us. The guys are adaptable in various positions.
"Jack (Geary) can play anywhere, Liam Barrett has been a tremendous defender for us, Liam Duguid can be on-ball or down back, Monti and Hickman can play forward and kick goals and Thrummy is proven as a forward or across half-back.
"We're still tweaking where everyone's best position is, but it's a good problem to have when you have so many options."
Carter said the Dogs plan to be less predictable going forward this season.
"We've put last year behind us and we have new expectations this year,'' Carter said.
"We have a similar game plan with a new list. Last year was positive in that we increased our average scores from about 70 up to 100 and our attack seems to be working well.
"Jayden Burke and Joel Brett are our top two forwards, but we're expecting some real improvement from other players who can float through the forward line.
"Braydon Vaz only played one or two games last year and he's been flying in the pre-season and Tom Strauch has gone to another level - they'll both be important for us in the forward line.
"They both have good size about them, but they're also in the top running group.
"Our forward line will look a bit different and that's exciting."
For a number of years the Dogs had trouble finding enough players to field a reserves team.
That won't be the case this season.
"Our average age is about 22 and we have about 60 players on the list to fill two sides,'' he said.
"Our depth is going to be good, which is what you need considering it will be tested at some stage with injuries and everything else that's going on.
"(Number one ruckman) Matt Compston has had a limited pre-season, but young Tanner Rayner has played in the practice matches and he's showing some really good signs.
"Tanner has a basketball background and he's still learning, but we're happy with the way he's progressing."
The Bulldogs face a stern test to open the BFNL season - a trip to the Queen Elizabeth Oval to play the big improvers from 2021 in South Bendigo.
Coach: Benita Swatton.
Placing when season ended last year: Eighth.
Arrivals: Jane Reid, Rachel Pettifer, Maddie Alvino, Laura Scott, Lucy Palmer, Jayne Boldiston, Lana Marsh.
Departures: Kristen Wilson, Zoe Douglass, Casey Livingston.
Last A-grade premiership: 2015.
Summary: After showing encouraging signs of improvement last season, Golden Square coach Benita Swatton wants to see her side take a few more steps forward in 2022.
The Bulldogs have worked hard over the off-season to bolster their playing stocks, with an influx of newcomers bringing an injection of enthusiasm and talent to Wade Street.
Swatton, who is heading into her third season as coach of the Bulldogs, said the pre-season vibe had been strong.
Heading the list of recruits is former Newbridge coach and efficient goal shooter Jane Reid, who will give the Bulldogs a strong and mobile target in the goal circle.
Joining her at Golden Square is another former Maroons coach Rachel Pettifer, whose arrival, along with that of Maddie Alvino from strong Sunraysia league club Imperials, will bolster the midcourt.
A new-look A-grade will also feature another new goal shooter Laura Scott, who has enjoyed plenty of premiership success with Shepparton in the Goulburn Valley league and is returning after a year off last season, and Lucy Palmer, from Cohuna Kangas.
The Bulldogs have also increased their overall depth by adding Lana Marsh, from Rochester, and the experienced Jayne Boldiston.
Those newcomers add to the Bulldogs' existing core of young talent led by last season's captain Maddy Keighran, joint best and fairest Abbey Clohesy and joint runner-up best and fairest Cass Humphrey.
Clohesy, a BFNL 17-and-under representative in her junior days, is studying in Geelong, but will make the trip back each weekend to play with the Square in a major boost to their prospects.
Swatton is certain the Bulldogs will be a stronger and tougher team to contend with this year.
"Hopefully we will have a good season, but I think we will be very competitive," she said.
"Jane (Reid) is a great acquisition with her height, it's something we have lacked, so I'm sure the girls will enjoy having someone down there with some size.
"And with such a young side, having a couple of older heads will definitely be beneficial."
The Bulldogs have lost their most experienced player in club 200-gamer and A-grade premiership player Kristen Wilson, while Casey Livingstone is taking a break.
The other major loss is Castlemaine-based defender Zoe Douglass, who shared the best and fairest award with Clohesy in 2021, but will be lining up with the Magpies in their return to A-grade netball.
After a winless season in 2019, the Bulldogs nabbed a pair of wins in their 10 matches played last year, accounting for Strathfieldsaye early in the season and Kyneton in an emotional 200th game for club stalwart Wilson in round 10.
They have sharpened their preparation for the season ahead with practice matches against HDFNL teams North Bendigo and Mount Pleasant.
"We've had a couple of in-house practice matches as well, so we should be ready to go," Swatton said.
The Bulldogs will get their chance to build some early confidence and momentum, with Kangaroo Flat the only top-three side on the schedule in the first four weeks of the season.
They open their campaign against South Bendigo before a round two clash against the Roos, followed by Maryborough and Eaglehawk in rounds three and four.
ROUND 1 - April 9
South Bendigo (a)
ROUND 2 - April 16
Kangaroo Flat (h)
ROUND 3 - April 23
ROUND 4 - April 30
ROUND 5 - May 7
ROUND 6 - May 14
ROUND 7 - May 28
ROUND 8 - June 4
ROUND 9 - June 11
ROUND 10 - June 18
South Bendigo (h)
ROUND 11 - June 25
Kangaroo Flat (a)
ROUND 12 - July 9
ROUND 13 - July 16
ROUND 14 - July 23
ROUND 15 - July 30
ROUND 16 - August 6
ROUND 17 - August 13
ROUND 18 - August 20
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