North Wagga's plans for a serious premiership defence are shaping up strongly with the Saints welcoming four more rising footballers with Riverina League experience.
Among the 46 players at McPherson Oval on Thursday night for Saints' first pre-season training were former Collingullie-Glenfield Park twins Ben and Sean Keith, and ex-Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes pair Elliott Winter and Lachie Johnson, who both have family connections at North Wagga.
On the back of Xavier Lyons joining from Wagga Tigers, North Wagga looks like a destination club for players looking for a change and the chance to prove themselves.
"They're all fairly versatile and I've said to the boys there's spots there in the midfield and if they want to put their hands up and grab one of them, it's there for the taking if they work hard and put in the time," Saints coach Cayden Winter said.
"I'm rapt with our recruiting this year. The boys we've brought in are all good young players who've had a fair bit of RFL experience for their age and it's only going to complement us older blokes at North Wagga."
Now 20, Ben and Sean Keith debuted at age 15 and later played in the Demons' 2017 grand final loss to Leeton-Whitton.
Sean was then a 2018 premiership player while Ben played in the seconds premiership before heading to Charles Sturt University in 2019 where he was one of the Bushpigs' most consistent down back or through the middle.
"Obviously they've played in RFL grand finals and that's in high regard. I haven't seen much of Sean play but I've played against Ben (at CSU) and he's a quality player. I'm stoked to have them on board," Winter said.
Sean (57 senior games) was keen to reunite with Ben (37 senior games at CGP plus 15 at CSU). That looked like being at CSU but with mates at Saints they chose to chase a premiership with North Wagga.
"I've watched my brother play. It seems like a tough brand of footy, the Farrer League compared to the RFL," Sean said.
"It's a strong club and one I've always considered I'd be happy to play for. I thought next year was a good time to jump on board."
Ben said his experience is that the Farrer League isn't a big drop off in standard but is certainly a more physical league.
"The competition's really good and it's going in a good way I think. We've got a few good mates out here and it was the opportunity to play in a good side so it was one that was too good to refuse," Ben said.
The Keiths are excited to get back on the paddock after sitting out the 2020 season.
Winter and Johnson, meanwhile, were part of MCUE's reserve grade premiership in the strong AFL Riverina Championship.
The two 19-year-olds have had first grade experience (34 games for Winter and 10 for Johnson) since debuting in 2018.
Johnson is keen to play with step brother Matt Thomas and Winter is a North Wagga junior and cousin of Saints' rookie coach.
"I wanted to play under Wiz," Elliott Winter said.
"I watched their grand final win and I was actually a junior here. I'm looking forward to having a crack at the midfield hopefully, getting a bit better and just having a good year."
Johnson and Winter said it was hard to leave MCUE but the family ties swung their decision.
"It's a bit of a change-up and hopefully the opportunity to play next to my step-brother," Johnson said of his move.
All four recruits have played most of their footy in the backline and bring the ability to add to North Wagga's running game.
Cayden Winter believes all four have their best football ahead of them and is confident they'll cover some key departures after the 2019 premiership.
"Elliot being my cousin, we've always wanted to link back up and this year felt right. He's a great kid and a good young player and it's the same with Lach as well, who's got a family connection with 'Hank'. So it's good to have those boys on board for a couple of years," Cayden Winter said.
"Being at Mango the last couple of years, they've made finals and played in some pretty big finals with them so that's going to be really good for us."