With the announcement of the HDFNL 2024 fixture on Monday, the Bendigo Advertiser has taken an early look at the five football games to look forward to in the opening month of the season.
ROUND 1 - MOUNT PLEASANT VS HEATHCOTE (GF REMATCH)
The Grand Final rematch is always the first game football fans pencil in when the fixture drops, and we won't have to wait long in 2024.
Mount Pleasant will unfurl its 2023 premiership flag while welcoming their vanquished opponents, Heathcote, in the season's opening round.
The long-time rivals added another chapter to their storied history in September when the Blues completed their run from fourth to win the flag in a cracking decider over the minor premiers.
There will be a new look at the Blues in 2024, though, with director of coaching Darren Walsh and co-coaches Adam Baird and Ben Weightman stepping down.
The Blue's previous flag was in 2006, and the man to lead them that year was Cameron Carter, who has re-joined the Blues as head coach.
Meanwhile, the Saints head into the campaign as pre-season favourites after an impressive quartet of signings that include former Coburg VFL player Zak Saad, Kyneton ruckman James Orr, South Bendigo defender Daniel Johnstone and Trentham's Cooper Webber-Mirkin.
ROUND 1 - COLBINABBIN VS ELMORE (N)
The first of two-night matches across the opening fortnight of the HDFNL sees Colbinabbin welcome Elmore.
With games against 2023 finalists in the following two weeks, getting a win on the board will be crucial to starting the season well for both of these clubs.
The Grasshoppers have signed Mooroopna inside midfielder Nathan Basile, who has represented Vic Country and the GVFL at interleague level.
Close mates and midfielders Connor Walsh and Nick Mayne from Banyule have joined the Bloods.
Mayne played with the Northern Knights during his underage career.
We should get an early season look at where these teams sit when they meet in front of a big crowd under lights.
ROUND 2 - WHITE HILLS VS MOUNT PLEASANT (N)
It is a tough start to the season for the reigning premiers, who face what many fancy as the two best chances for premiership honours in 2024 in the first fortnight.
After a grand final rematch, they travel to White Hills for the second and last night game of the year.
The previous time a night game was played at White Hills - round three, 2023 - we witnessed one of the best local footy matches in recent years when the Demons beat the Saints 17.13 (115) to 17.11 (113).
Star forward Kaiden Antonowicz has stepped up to co-coach the Demons alongside incumbent Jack Fallon.
There are positive signs for the Demons to break their 35-year premiership drought, having added former BFNL interleague ruckman Callum Crisp and Eaglehawk tall Jack Lanton.
The last time these sides met, the Blues snuck home in the preliminary final by four points after the Demons kicked 8.17 (65) to blow their premiership hopes.
ROUND 3 - NORTH BENDIGO VS LEITCHVILLE-GUNBOWER
After several seasons in the doldrums, the Bombers stormed into the finals in 2023, winning their last six games.
They face LBU in round one, but their biggest test of the first month will come against traditional rival North Bendigo two weeks later.
Two-time premiership player Brady Hore, Blake Dye and Charlie Hancock return to the Bombers while they have signed Yarraville half-back Brad Green.
The Bulldogs begin its season with the bye before facing Elmore in round two ahead of this intriguing clash with the Bombers.
It has been a strong off-season for the Bulldogs with Bendigo Pioneer Bailey Cain, Maiden Gully YCW captain Hamish McCartney, triple Bulldog premiership player Tyson Findlay and mobile forward Jake Dean linking up with the Red, White and Blue.
ROUND 4 - HUNTLY VS LBU
How Hamish Morcom's first month in charge of the Hawks goes could be determined by their round four clash against Lockington-Bamawn United.
The Hawks will go in as heavy underdogs against the Demons in round one and Blues in round three (bye round two).
While the Cats are by no means easybeats, this could be his best chance to get a win on the board early in the season.