Mangoplah-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes have topped their list off nicely with the signing of accomplished key defender Ben Halse.
The Goannas' quest to end the league's longest premiership drought kicks off with a road trip to Griffith on Saturday to take on the Swans.
They will get their campaign underway with extra buzz after welcoming on board Halse, as a marquee recruit.
Halse has over 100 NEAFL games experience with Canberra Demons and Eastlake. He returned to AFL Canberra with Eastlakes in 2020 before taking last season off.
Halse, who turns 27 this year, underwent minor knee surgery eight weeks ago and won't feature early in the season for the Goannas.
But MCUE coach Jeremy Rowe believes Halse will be a valuable addition to the Goannas' defence.
"I was fortunate enough to work with Ben for a couple of years as an assistant coach at the Canberra Demons and at Canberra Demons level he was utilised on the opposition's best forward pretty much every week," Rowe said.
"He was a very, very reliable stopper and the amount of times his opponent got off the chain, I can't even really recall. He brings that ability to play on the opposition's best forward but I have spoken to quite a few people in and around AFL Canberra and when Ben comes down a step he certainly adds some layers to his game including the ability to intercept the footy.
"Without George Kendall and at this point without a bona fide centre-half-forward, we have made a few little tweaks to our game style and the way we want to move the footy off half-back and promoting intercept footy is something we're focusing on so Ben will find himself down back without too many alternatives there but we will fluctuate him from week to week to whether he picks up a Joe Redfern or whether we try and get him a little bit off the chain and try to focus on him really having a strong focus on the intercept game."
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Halse may not return to the field until mid-season pending how his recovery from knee surgery goes.
"We're not rushing the situation," Rowe said.
"We've got a definite focus on seeing his best footy at the back end of the season and a return to footy could be anywhere from four to eight weeks away for him. If he needs longer, we're more than happy to support him through that."
Rowe believes Halse's experience at higher levels of football will help bolster MCUE's ability to win big games.
"If you look the comings and goings for our list this year, we've had some real A grade quality leave the team, albeit only on a really small scale and thankfully we've been able to strengthen our list and strengthen our depth and, I suppose, tick off some needs we had through Mangoplah players returning to our squad," he said.
"Getting that one guy in whose played at a higher level of footy and comes in as an A grader for you is incredibly important. There are those games that you play where you need the cream to rise to the top, you need those match-winners to stand up for you when the game is on the line. I think you'd be lying if you didn't say that it's super important for everyone to play their role and play within your systems and play within your structures and contribute but at our level of footy if you've got enough of that A grade talent throughout your list then it just makes a huge difference at the business end of the year."
Halse, Trent Castles, Nick Collins and Harry Collins will all miss Saturday's trip to Griffith but returning players such as Nick McCormack, Tim Smith, Matt and Jack Collins and Isaac Damme are all expected to play.
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