WEST Lions takes the first on-field step towards what could be a record-breaking fifth straight Group 4 premiership when they travel to the coast for a trial game today – but it could be the hardest of the five to win.
Maybe that’s why the Lions are looking a little blue this year.
They are starting later than usual and have lost a host of players from the side that rolled North Tamworth in last year’s decider.
But if the playing ranks have been drastically altered the same can’t be said of the coaching job, with Tony La Chiusa back again.
West is the only side in Group 4 first grade to retain its 2012 coach.
“It’s a late kickoff for us,” La Chiusa said.
“We’re down on numbers but we’re defending the title and going for five in a row, which no one has ever done, so we want to plan our season well.
“We haven’t got a reserve grade at the moment but we’re working with the Group to get a side.
“At the moment we’ve only got 18 players training so we need a lot more to have two teams.”
That small squad will go to Woolgoolga today for a trial against the local Group 2 club and Grafton.
It’s Wests first run of the year and a chance for some of the club’s young guns to slot into the gaps left by so many departures.
“We’ve lost 14 players from last year’s squad,” La Chiusa said.
“Chris Hunt is injured, Beau White has gone to Wauchope, Luke White has gone back to second division, Dean Hoy has retired and a few other fringe players have gone to Norths or to second division.
“Benny Crowley has gone back to Barraba, Jeremy York has gone to Pirates and Clint Ridley is sitting the season out because he wanted to go to Dungowan.
“We’ve got 12 players from last year but we’ve got some great young kids coming through who will take those spots.
“Mitch Doring is training the house down. “He played in all the (Greater Northern) Academy games and he’s only 17, but he’s been going great for us at fullback.
“Then we have two good backrowers in Ben Jarvis and Luke Byrnes who have come out of the 18s.
“They’ll push for first grade spots.
“And Ad Miller is back, which is enormous for the club.”
La Chiusa said all those changes mean he will have to field an almost new backline, but should still have a strong pack.
The club has also changed its on-field image in another way.
After wearing traditional West Tamworth maroon two years ago and the red, white and blue of Tamworth City last season, the Lions have chosen an all-blue uniform for 2013.
It’s a “new era”, said La Chiusa, but it could end with the same result.
The next outing for the Lions will be at the Wests Knockout on April 6.