What a build up there has been to the 2020 season.
This year's Group Nine season was shaping up to be one of the strongest before COVID-19 put a big stop on things.
Months of uncertainty finally turned to hope and then excitement as July 18 approached.
Now as final preparations are put in place, three clubs won't be on the field but the gap between the remaining seven looks to have reduced significantly as all try to deal with an interrupted and much shorter preparation considering the crazy times we are living in.
With eight rounds it's going to be hard and fast action as all clubs eye a place in the top four.
Those who come firing out of the blocks first will be the big beneficiaries as there is not a lot of time to make up lost ground in the shortened season.
Lining up this season preview is by far the hardest of the six I've done at The Daily Advertiser with realistically every team a top four chance.
Let's just hope we make it to the finish safe and healthy.
Coach: Cameron Breust (first season)
Last season: Fifth
Key gains: Hayden Philp, Chris Maher, Maleke Morris, James Morgan
Key losses: Peter Little, Ben Schreiber
What the coach says: We're very confident as our playing group is such a close group of friends this year. We've been through the ups and downs together and that has gotten us closer. We're fit, we're strong and we're healthy. I'm very confident the playing group we've got is going to go a great job for the club this year.
What we say: Brothers were ice cold before turning red hot leading into the finals last season until another early exit and they've got good continuity this season. While the creativity of Peter Little is a loss they've still got plenty of attacking options and their youthful forward pack will only be better for another year. The pack will have to step up against plenty of big bodies for their rivals and while Brothers are closing in on adding to their lone Group Nine title won 25 years ago this shapes as a very difficult competition to win.
Coach: Adam Perry (second season)
Last season: Third
Key gains: Dane O'Hehir, Derek Hay, Jack Lyons
Key losses: Cameron Woo, Noa Fotu, Brock Dunn
What the coach says: I think we've got a fairly good mix with some experienced players and a heap of young kids there. I think we've got a fairly settled squad too. A lot of sides have bought players in and changed their squad a bit while ours is pretty close to what it has been for the last couple of years.
What we say: The Tigers were the best team for the majority of last season before consecutive losses saw them miss out on a grand final berth for the first time in five years. Uncharacteristically giving up a big lead to Tumut in the preliminary final is going to burn for some time still and could be exactly what the side needs to go back to the top of the tree this season. They've got a very similar side to last season and most of their new faces are no strangers to the club which only bodes well for more success.
Coach: Trent Schubach (second year)
Last season: Ninth
Key gains: Jake Goodwin, Tim Dore, Kane Hammond, Andre Iro, Aaron Byrne, Haydn Cowled, Eddie Bola, Kitione Rasotale, Jone Sariri, Seva Nabetelevu
Key losses: Hayden Diggins, Matt Hands, Tristan Dickson, Will Merritt, Ritchie Herangi
What the coach says: Everything is looking pretty good. Obviously we've signed a few players, which helps, but we have to take it one day at a time now with all this COVID stuff. Training has been pretty good, the new signings have been handy and while everyone has been picking up new players it puts us in pretty good stead. We've signed five or six genuine first graders and hopefully we are pretty well up there and contending at the end.
What we say: The Diesels were already one of the biggest movers in the off-season before a late frenzy of new faces. These help replace some significant losses from last year when the side struggled. Added depth will be the real bonus of their changes with plenty of options on what best shape to have the team. Junee will be much better in 2020 but how the side comes together after plenty of late changes is the big concern, especially in a competition with plenty of talent across the board.
Coach: Hayden Ashcroft (first season)
Last season: Sixth
Key gains: Hayden Ashcroft, Matt Henery, Jordan Coleman, Hamish Starr, Caleb Tohovaka, Jake Mascini, Ryan Cronin
Key losses: Glenn Dumbrell, Dana Ratu, James Morgan, Warren Lloyd, Fetongi Tuinauvai
What the coach says: With the shortened season and all the speculation around coronavirus I think it can be anyone's year. There has been some signings from every club but I haven't thought too much about what every other side is doing or who they've signed and have just focused on us as a team and I think the better team on the day will get the results not the team on paper. I think it can go either way this year with the smaller preparation and late inclusions teams who aren't expected to beat a side will certainly prove it can be anyone's game.
What we say: Another side who have made big moves in the off-season. Kangaroos were on the front foot early after struggling to get going last season and finished off their recruiting late with . Are expected to be a much-improved side but so are most in the competition
Coach: Nathan Rose (first season)
Last season: Runners-up
Key gains: Tyson Hodge, Cody Hodge, Dana Ratu
Key losses: Nick Skinner, Hayden Jeans, Jake Dooley, Tim Hurst, Steve Tracey, Brodie Tracey, Ben Lucas, Harry Lucas, Tim Jones
What the coach says: We're just poking along and keeping our heads down trying to get everything right before the start of the season. Obviously we've got a new playing group to what we've had over the last four or five years so we're trying to nail down the basics before building a little momentum from there. Hopefully that puts us in a good spot moving forward.
What we say: It feels so strange to say Southcity will slide a long way down the ladder but even the Bulls are bracing for a tough season. They've been at or near the top for the last decade but coronavirus has really hit the club hard with a massive number of losses from the side who were well beaten by Tumut in last year's grand final. The return of the Hodge brothers is a big bonus for club and while the likes of Nathan Rose and Kyle McCarthy are pulling the strings the side is always going to be dangerous but how much of their depth they're going to have to call on is a real concern with a lot of experience coming out of the side.
Coach: Dean Bristow (third season) and Lachlan Bristow (first season)
Last season: Premiers
Key gains: Michael Fenn, Connor Massen, Matt Byatt
Key losses: Ben Roddy, Tom Warner, Ben Warner, Michael Clark, Josh Webb
What the coaches say: (Dean Bristow) I'd like to think we'll stack up about where we left off. We've still got the same spine as last year and our forward pack is pretty well unchanged so I think we'll be there around about the mark. With the shortened preparation it changes my confidence levels a little bit but we will go in there the best prepared we can. (Lachlan Bristow) We should go well. The majority of players have kept on from last year and we know how to win.
What we say: The Blues strength was their impressive forward pack and despite some turnover it looks set to be even more so the case this season. They've landed some big late moves however their back line losses haven't been replaced and it's a big question mark heading into round one. It is also always tougher to be the hunted than the hunter and as the breakthrough premiership meant so much to the club, and the whole town, it will be hard to back up the emotion that delivered the title again.
Coach: Nick Hall (first season)
Last season: Eighth
Key gains: Joe Picker, Mick Picker, Ben Picker, Michael Dodson, Inoke Vunipola, John Grant, James Woolford
Key losses: Aaron Slater, Saul Lealaitafea, Sam Langford, Kelepi Komaisavou
What the coach says: I think we've got a good squad and have brought in some experience, some good people and good culture. Think every other side we haven't had enough time to do what we need to do to be ready but I'm very excited about getting together and starting, I'm excited about the standard of the opposition this year. I think it is going to be a good comp and I'm interested to see how everyone is going to handle the same issues we've had in bringing everyone together. I am a bit nervous about our travellers and our inability to get the whole squad together has been an issue but games will help us with.
What we say: This could be the year for the perennial underachievers. It's been almost three decades since the Cherrypickers have won the Group Nine title and over two decades since their last grand final appearance. They've got a long way to come after a disappointing start to last season but have attracted plenty of players led by the Picker brothers. How the new-look team meshes is going to be the worry but with plenty of exciting youngsters, who have all had a taste of first grade, and their experienced recruits it could create a perfect storm.