SEASON 2022 will get underway this weekend amid plenty of intrigue and great anticipation.
While it is a safe bet to see the likes of Hanwood and Leeton again leading the way, there also the great unknown which makes this season so exciting.
How far can South Wagga climb again? Can Lake Albert challenge the might of the MIA? What to make of Wagga United?
The good thing is, the answers will soon be revealed when the action gets underway on Sunday.
Here is our look at the season ahead.
Coach: Mick Godbier
Last year: Tenth
Key gains: Josh Purtell
Key losses: Nil
What the coach says: "I'm just worrying about development and getting our first grade side up and running again after a couple of years out, and then a COVID interrupted season last year. I'm totally focused on development, winning games of football doesn't worry me at this stage."
Overview: Mick Godbier's comments say it all. For Cootamundra, it is all about development as they look to establish themselves firmly in the Pascoe Cup competition again. They showed good signs last year, sharing the points a couple of times, including in the opening round against Wagga United. And while they welcome a couple of players back to the fold, it is hard to expect too much instant improvement as Godbier continues to go to work with his young squad.
Coach: Jason Bertacco
Last year: First
Key gains: Hugo Banks, Josh de Rossi, Michael Cimador, Brad Clark
Key losses: Joey Schirripa, Jordan Austin, Nick Zappala
What the coach says: "We set pretty high standards for us as a club but first and foremost the goal is to get enough points to play finals. Then we'll look to push for top two and be there at the end of the year like every club wants to."
Overview: Hanwood were the dominant team of the competition last year, with only a draw against Wagga United preventing them from a perfect record from the 13 rounds. While there has been a change at the top, and some player turnover, there are no signs that Hanwood will be slowing down at all. Michael Cimador and Brad Clark return, while the addition of Josh de Rossi is set to be huge. De Rossi was awarded the Tim Cahill Scholarship back in 2017 and has plenty of experience with Sydney United in the NPL. He has returned home to Griffith and will add some X-factor to Hanwood's midfield and attack. There is no doubt Hanwood is again the team to beat.
Coach: Chris Hart
Last year: Third
Key gains: Mitch Herps, Bailey Hart, David Carter
Key losses: Matt Menser, Ash Woehler, Isaac Tancredi, Nathan Trinder
What the coach says: "The main goal would be finals, then anything can happen. I guess the other thing is to avoid any bad games, consistent performances is the main thing."
Overview: It has been a tough off-season at Henwood Park since the decision of Michael Babic and Matt Menser not to coach again. Menser won't be seen on the field at all this season and losses don't come much bigger than that. Then you throw in experienced keeper Nathan Trinder and key players Ash Woehler and Isaac Tancredi, then there are some large shoes to fill at the Hawks. Matt Cain was thought to be lost, adding to the woes, but he is set to travel back from Canberra and feature in some games, which will dearly help. Chris Hart has the task in front of him in his first year but there is still enough experience and talent to ensure Henwood Park is again competitive and will be around the mark.
Coach: Chris Ayton and Kyle Harrison
Last year: Fourth
Key gains: Robert Fry, Fawaz Fares, Josh Everingham
Key losses: Levi Hughes
What the coach says: "I'd hope we'll be thereabouts. I'm told Leeton and Hanwood have pretty good sides so our goal will be to make the top four and once you get to finals, anything can happen. The first goal is to get to finals, there's no doubt we want to be holding up the cup but we'll see what happens at the end of the year, there's a lot that can happen between now and then."
Overview: Lake Albert bounced back to being one of the top teams of the competition last year, on the back of an injection of fresh talent and some new faces. The Sharks showed that on their day they can match it with the best, just lacked some consistency at times. Wanderers keeper Robert Fry has come on board and will only add to the Sharks' experience and resolve. Lake Albert have a good enough squad that finals will be a lock, it just remains to be seen whether they can step up and match it with the likes of Hanwood and Leeton for the full 90 minutes.
Coach: Ross Morgan and Rhys Jones
Last year: Second
Key gains: Junior Fomami, Oscar Williams, Thomas Graham, Bailey Carlos, Ethan Burrow
Key losses: Stu Smeeth, Adam Raso, Luke Mandaglio, Eric Gardner, Jarrod Sillis
What the coach says: "The goal is to make the top four and play finals football. Obviously there has been quite a few changes we weren't expecting from last season but it will be good to get the first game out of the way, blow out the cobwebs and see where we stand."
Overview: A new era will begin at Leeton this season under new co-coaches Ross Morgan and Rhys Jones. There has been a fair amount of player turnover, more than the club expected, but they have been able to offset some quality departures with the addition of some quality footballers that have moved to town. Junior Fomami impressed in his only pre-season hit-out and looks set to be a quality recruit, while any team boasting Fred and Henri Gardner has the ability to put a winning score on the board. A serious premiership threat.
Prediction: Runners up
Coach: Andy Heller
Last year: Eighth
Key gains: Tallem New, Jayden Groenwege, Monty Jacka
Key losses: Adrian Jones, Ziggy Bolger, Chris Casella
What the coach says: "(The goal is) finals. We should make finals. I'd be disappointed if we didn't with the squad we have."
Overview: South Wagga took a couple of massive steps forward last year, providing hope that the end of some tough times is almost here. Andy Heller has done a terrific job with the Warriors and has stated a clear intent from the start this year that it is finals or bust for South Wagga. That appears a big call from the outside, but goes to show what the mindset and belief of those inside the camp. Expect South Wagga to continue their climb and prove even more competitive than last season. A finish in the top half of the table would be a huge result.
Coach: Aaron Mo'ane
Last year: Ninth
Key gains: Nick Tsipiras, Charlton Zahra, Dan Okot, Kaylem Fitzpatrick, Charles Whatman, Tobias Kirk, Isaac Devries, Henry Shears
Key losses: Eli Abbas, Prince Thompson, Damon Watson, Jamey Lenko, Chris Williams, Oscar Williams, Andrew Solomon
What the coach says: "After coming on board with TFC in the off-season it was pretty evident that the club needed a bit of a rebuild. The standard was set quite high from the get go in terms of attitudes and commitment required from our players and I think it shows that those we have brought in and those that we have decided to let go that we are on the right track to not only getting the standard of football we play back to a premier level but also rebuilding the culture of the club to where it needs to be. If the boys click, I wouldn't be surprised to push for finals football. At the moment we are just going to take it a game at a time, however the potential growth of the squad is sky high as we are only just getting started."
Overview: It will be a new-look Tolland team that hits the park in 2022 and there needed to be changes after some tough times last year. Aaron Mo'ane has returned and worked hard on the recruiting front, bringing in a virtual brand-new team, existing of returning Tolland talent and some fresh faces from outside the region. Make no mistake, there is no magic wand that will see Tolland instantly return to a finals challenger. It's going to take time but expect the Wolves to get better as the year goes on. They are coming from a long way back and any improvement up the ladder would be a good result in the first year of their rebuild.
Coach: Lachlan Anderson
Last year: Sixth
Key gains: Mark Stepic, Ben Howell, Daniel Castle, Riley McLachlan, Eddie Dodds
Key losses: Jordan Sanbrook, Ethan Parker, Isiah Webb, Murray Barratt
What the coach says: "Our squad is relatively the same strength as last year I think. The young guys are probably a year behind the young guys from last year and the spine of the squad will be the same, really. Obviously we want to go at least the same as last year and then push for finals."
Overview: Tumut are another Pascoe Cup outfit that over the past couple of seasons have developed a reputation where you know what you'll get from them. The Eagles have proven one of the more consistent performers of the competition, despite boasting one of the younger lists. Tumut expect to field a similar team to last year and if they can produce a similar standard then they'll be in with a chance of playing finals. Always hard to beat at home, it would be a surprise to see Tumut any worse than mid-table.
Coach: James Samson
Last year: Seventh
Key gains: Damon Hardinge, Max Lysaght, Matt Crawford
Key losses: Kai Watts
What the coach says: "Going off last year, especially for me personally, I want the boys to play and enjoy their football and everything they've shown me so far through the pre-season is that they're enjoying it, we're playing simple football, we're gelling together and we're looking forward to round one this weekend. I expect this year's Pascoe Cup to be a tough competition, as it always is, but we showed last year we can match it with a number of teams and I want us to take that one step further."
Overview: Wagga United were one of the most frustrating teams of last year. They showed on multiple occasions their best was right up there, taking a point from Hanwood and pushing a couple of other title contenders all the way. But they let themselves down dropping points they shouldn't have against some of the lower teams. New coach James Samson looks set to provide stability that could bring out the best in United. Kai Watts is a big loss but he was unable to play each week last year anyway. There is bit to like about United and if it all comes together they could play finals.
Coach: Duncan Cameron
Last year: Fifth
Key gains: Nil
Key losses: Pat Hislop, Matt McKnight, Liam Cheyne, Rhys Lacey
What the coach says: "We're starting again, really, and we'll rely on our juniors coming through. We're still focused on finals, the focus is always finals and winning those important games."
Overview: It would take a brave man to write off Young. While on paper it again looks tough for them to repeat their efforts of last year, the Lions have a habit of digging in and getting the best out of their list. Pat Hislop's move to Tuggeranong will certainly be felt, while they will also miss Matt McKnight's experience in goals. Duncan Cameron plans to return to a more prominent role on-field this year, which will help, and provide some valuable guidance around the park. Young have gone about their business quietly over the off-season but expect them to again turn up every week and be extremely hard to beat. Look set to play finals.
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