Jeremy Rowe is well aware Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes have lost some key players but the coach is confident - after bringing to six now, the number of former Goannas returning next season - that they have reason to be excited.
MCUE have locked in reliable 2019 backman Tim Smith, after an injury-impacted year at East Wagga-Kooringal, as well as securing the exciting Zac Wiencke for at least half the season.
Rowe said Smith is a highly respected proven performer at the Goannas.
"We are very, very happy that Tim has rejoined our club," Rowe said.
"Going back to the full season that he played with us, he was the centre-half-back in the RFL team of the year and was also voted our Players' Player...
"For Tim to come back into our side, as a player he's an on-field leader.
"He's nice and vocal and really helps you tighten the screws in the back half."
In 2020, Smith went back to EWK, who he helped to a Farrer League flag in 2016, for a reunion with his brother, only for the season to disappear in a COVID cloud, and then injury to limit him to three games last year.
But Rowe reckons the Goannas know what they're getting, in a backman who can turn defence into attack.
"As his career's gone on, he's developed a good blend between being able to play on an elite key forward in a shutdown role, or at times give himself some extra leeway and focus his game on taking intercept marks and turning defence into offence very quickly," Rowe said.
Rowe believes Isaac Damme, Hunter Lloyd and Matt Collins all benefit from Smith being around, freeing them up to play forward, as they try to figure out the best attacking set-up after losing George Kendall.
MCUE have also lost two other key figures in Sam Sousa and Lachie Kendall but Rowe says six returning Goannas is a good sign for the club.
He believes Nick McCormack, Connor Quade, Damme, Collins, Smith and Wiencke help balance the account.
Wiencke was an emerging Temora star before further developing his game at Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong. He came to MCUE for the AFL Riverina Championship season of 2020 but, training to be a police officer, was unavailable in 2021.
"He's going to play some footy for us next year, coming back from Sydney when it fits his (work) roster," Rowe said.
"Zac was a terrific addition to our side in 2020. I think everyone would say that the 2020 COVID season (AFL Riverina Championship) was played at a higher standard than we normally see in the local area and Zac's footy definitely stood up to that.
"I reckon he's as fast, and explosive and agile as anyone in the league when it comes to movements over 20 to 30 metres, and his ability to get out of traffic in tight confines can be quite breathtaking at times."
Wiencke played wing, midfield and forward in his previous year at Mangoplah and they're hopeful of seeing him for eight to 10 games during the regular season.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.