Time for North Wagga to step out of the shadows of the competition’s heavyweights and claim a serious scalp.
Time for the Saints to secure a derby victory against local rivals East Wagga-Kooringal. And time to show they can play a full four quarters.
But coach Kirk Hamblin also knows now is not the time to write off the reigning premiers.
“I haven’t beaten East Wagga since they were in the RFL, many years ago,” Hamblin said. “They’re our biggest rival, just across town so yeah, we’re looking forward to the challenge.
“They obviously lost a few but I still rate them as a top three team. They’ve held on to their core group of quality players… they’ll still be a dangerous team.”
Rating his opposite, Gavin McMahon, “a fantastic coach” Hamblin said the Hawks have had a consistent game over the past three years which will help them cope with the changes.
But as Hamblin enters his second year in charge at McPherson Oval, he’s made some changes at the Saints.
“We have tinkered with the game plan a bit. In previous years with a young team the focus was slingshot football which is something we’ve changed around,” he said.
“We’ve worked on our skills a fair bit. Hopefully we’ve maintained our pace and fitness but picked our skills up a little bit.”
North Wagga will be without key forward Alex Grozinger, as well as Sam Longmore and Ryan Dean (all unavailable) but welcome Orange recruit, centre-half-forward Tim Barry.
Newly-named co-captain Ned Mortimer takes Grozinger’s role deep forward and is set for a big season according to the man who joins him in the crucial leadership role.
“It’s good having Ned around,” midfielder Corey Watt said.
“Last year he was coming back from league and he had a shoulder injury as well but this year he hasn’t missed a training and hopefully he can lead from the front on the weekend.”
Watt is set to play his first game after missing their win at Barellan with his own shoulder concern.
After a disrupted season last year, he wants to recapture the form that won him a league medal as a 21-year-old in 2015.
“I had a hamstring injury (early) then a shoulder later in the year, it was just a pain in the arse, I couldn’t get a good run-in with it,” he said.
Watt is almost a mirror to his club, which disappointed last year failing to make finals. And Saturday’s trip to Gumly is a test personally as well as for the team.
“Yeah, I definitely get up for it, I like to play against the better players, it makes you fire up a bit more,” he said. “They’re definitely handy players, (Ben Absolum’s) quick on his feet and (Chris Gordon’s) pretty smart with his play.”
The Hawks have plenty of outs but one huge in, ruckman Nick Hull. He kicked four goals in both of the wins against the Saints last year as the Hawks mounted last quarter comebacks to secure wins.