East Wagga-Kooringal's 2021 preparation has been given a big kick along with the return of former captain Ben Absolum.
With just six-and-a-half weeks to round one, 'ecstatic' Hawks coach Matt Hard said Absolum will be a huge inclusion.
"It's real good. We're very happy to have Ben back," Hard said.
"Ben's obviously a previous club captain, a best-and-fairest winner, a premiership captain and very well respected in our footy club.
"He's keen and excited by what lies ahead I think."
At the end of 2019, the talented midfielder left Gumly, where the family name goes back generations, intending to have a 'reunion season' with some old mates at his previous club Collingullie-Glenfield Park.
The Demons didn't take part in the one-off AFL Riverina Championship and, after contemplating retirement, Absolum has decided to head back to the Hawks.
"It was a big loss but we understood the reasons why he went back to 'Gullie," Hard said.
"But we're ecstatic to get him back to East Wagga.
"He's got the runs on the board and he's very well respected at our club and within the league.
"It says a lot that he wants to come back to our club and our playing group and I think it says a lot about the direction we're heading in."
Absolum's homecoming is particularly valuable after the loss of midfield general Chris Gordon.
Hard said his experience and football ability mean he could play almost any role for the Hawks and they won't be putting too much pressure on.
The 32-year-old captained EWK to their drought-breaking flag of 2016, leading the way with a best-on-ground performance. He also captained the Farrer League representative team in 2017 and 2018.
"He brings experience, a level-head, leadership, he brings the whole box and dice," Hard said.
"But the beauty about Ben coming back is he's just there as a player so that he gets to just enjoy footy and not have all the pressure of the other roles on his shoulders.
"That's probably the most exciting factor for him, he gets to just come back and play footy. I know Ben's excited by that and we're equally excited by that."
While Gordon and ruckman Nick Hull are gone from the 2019 team, the Hawks have Dan and Kieran McCarthy, Tim Smith, Nathan Scott, Ben Cadzow and Luke Cuthbert coming in.
They'll likely enter the competition as favourites when their season kicks off at home to The Rock-Yerong Creek on April 10.
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