South Bendigo's big jump into the BFNL top five in 2021 has raised expectations for 2022.
The Bloods' big improvement last year caught a few rivals off guard - they won't get the same luxury this year.
Being hunted is something that coach Nathan Horbury savours.
The classy midfielder expects his side to take another step forward in 2022.
"I'm confident we can play finals footy,'' Horbury said.
"We know our best footy is good enough, it's just a matter of closing the gap between our best and worst. I think we took a fair step towards that last year.
"I think we have the pieces in place to have a good year."
The return to the club of midfielders Liam Byrne, a former Bendigo Gold VFL player, and Isaaih Miller, a BFNL inter-league representative, more than offset the departure of Brody Haddow.
Ex-Kyabram player Sam Langley has made a big impression in his first pre-season with the Bloods.
Will Allen's return helps the Bloods in an area they are deficient in - height.
"We know (a lack of height) lets us down,'' Horbury said.
"Daniel Nalder is flying on the track and he'll play key position forward with Will Allen.
"Riley Walsh will play in the ruck where he'll be undersized against most ruckmen, with Andy Van Heumen and Daniel Johnstone down back.
"The keys are there, but we know we're probably missing one real big fella that a lot of sides do have.
"We've worked our game structures around having a smaller side and if we can play to those structures then we can catch some sides out.
"It's a matter of playing to those structures for four quarters rather than a half."
The redevelopment of Harry Trott Oval is an advantage for the fleet-footed Bloods - all their home games this year will be played on the spacious QEO.
"With our run and carry and speed we can open teams up on the QEO,'' Horbury said.
"We think that will suit us."
Horbury said the appointment of Bloods' great Shaun Leech as under-18 coach had been a boost for the entire club.
"We were scratching for numbers last year, so Leechy has done a great job to get a team together.
"They've trained with the senior group for most of the pre-season.
"Most of the under-18s this year are bottom age players, so I'm not sure how they'll go this year, but there's some good talent in the group and we have a strong under-16 team coming through as well.
"It's a great sign for the club going forward."
The Bloods will know early in the season where they sit in the pecking order.
South has arguably the toughest opening four rounds in the competition - Golden Square, Eaglehawk, Sandhurst and Kyneton.
"We haven't beaten Golden Square in my time at the club and they've been a quality line-up for a long time,'' Horbury said.
"We think we can beat any team on the QEO, so we're looking forward to a big game round one."
Coach: Jannelle Hobbs.
Placing when season ended last year: Fourth.
Arrivals: Chloe Gray, Olivia Mason, Alicia McGlashan, Jamie-Lee Clohesy, Claudia Griffiths.
Departures: Danielle O'Toole, Abbey Grindal.
Last A-grade flag: Never won an A-grade flag.
Summary: Competing in one of Victoria's toughest and obviously best grassroots netball competitions, South Bendigo has made great strides in each of coach Jannelle Hobbs' seasons at the helm since 2018.
But cracking the top-three in a league inhabited by the likes of powerhouses Sandhurst, Gisborne and Kangaroo Flat has been a tough ask.
While Hobbs acknowledges top-three is the definite aim once more, it's going to take something special, especially with a new contender on the block in Castlemaine.
But she also knows her Bloods team has never been stronger.
Another busy pre-season was highlighted by the recruitment of VNL player Chloe Gray, who joins the Bloods after making the Riddell District league team of the year in 2021 while playing for Wallan.
In a further boost, particularly for a largely young squad, South Bendigo has added a wealth of experience in former Kangaroo Flat premiership players Alicia McGlashan and Jamie Clohesy.
McGlashan, one of the league's premier defenders from the moment she first stepped onto the A-grade court back in the early 2000s, has joined the Bloods after winning six premierships with the Roos and playing in 10 grand finals in total.
While her pre-season has been interrupted due to a broken finger sustained in tryouts last year, Hobbs is anticipating she will be ready to join Stephanie Goode in defence for the Bloods' season opener against Golden Square.
Her 2016 Roos premiership team-mate Clohesy is making a return to the court, after missing the cancelled 2020 season and last year's as well.
After a lengthy and intense pre-season, Hobbs is expecting her team to be raring to go.
Their preparation has been topped with practice matches against Bridgewater and Ballarat league club Redan, with another to follow against Castlemaine on March 31.
Hobbs is predicting big things from new recruit Gray after a standout pre-season.
The star newcomer, who is playing VNL this season with Southern Saints, has brought plenty of versatility and skill to an already strong line-up.
'Her and Keiarah Brooks have been combining brilliantly in the midcourt," said Hobbs of her new recruit, who can also play goal attack.
"I feel Chloe will have an amazing season."
The other player to catch the eye has been new goal shooter Olivia Mason, who has made the move from Shepparton Swans in the Goulburn Valley league.
"She has really been training well," said Hobbs.
"There's lots of depth there this year, which we've worked on every year since I came to South and it's something we've managed to add to.
"There's real competition for spots this year."
The A-squad will comprise further fresh faces in defender Amy Morrissey and last year's 17-and-under star Ella Flavell, who got her first taste of A-grade last season.
The recruits join A-grade holdovers Brooks, Goode, star young goal shooter Chloe Langley and midcourter Emily Cossar.
Departures from last season include midcourter Danielle O'Toole and young shooter Abbey Grindal.
Hobbs, who has coached in the BFNL since 2012, insists this year will be the strongest across the board season in her time in the league.
"There are a number of clubs looking promising. Obviously, there's Kangaoo Flat, Sandhurst and Gisborne, who are strong no matter what, and then there's us and Castlemaine," she said.
"It's really hard to predict. I think it will come down to match-ups on the day.
"We still don't know much about Castlemaine, despite plenty of big-name recruits. There's a real element of surprise to them.
"But the proven sides are Sandhurst, Kangaroo Flat and Gisborne and they will no doubt be tough to beat again."
ROUND 1 - April 9
v Golden Square (h)
ROUND 2 - April 15
v Eaglehawk (a)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Sandhurst (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Kyneton (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Castlemaine (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Gibsorne (a)
ROUND 7 - May 28
v Strathfieldsaye (h)
ROUND 8 - June 4
v Maryborough (h)
ROUND 9 - June 11
v Kangaroo Flat (a)
ROUND 10 - June 18
v Golden Square (a)
ROUND 11 - June 25
v Eaglehawk (h)
ROUND 12 - July 9
v Sandhurst (a)
ROUND 13 - July 16
v Kyneton (h)
ROUND 14 - July 23
v Castlemaine (a)
ROUND 15 - July 30
v Gisborne (h)
ROUND 16 - August 6
v Strathfieldsaye (a)
ROUND 17 - August 13
v Maryborough (a)
ROUND 18 - August 20
v Kangaroo Flat (h)
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