PIRATES are entering the new-look Central North competition the hard way, hosting Narrabri at home in the opening round.
The two sides last met in the Armidale Knockout when Pirates beat the Blue Boars in the semi-final.
Pirates coach Andrew Verrell said that win meant nothing.
“The main thing that sticks in my memory is the loss to them in the preliminary final last year,” Verrell said.
The two sides had an interesting build-up to that game, with Pirates beating them at home once and the Blue Boars beating Pirates at home twice.
Narrabri coach Tom Cullen said that while the win at the end of last season gives them confidence it will be a tough start.
“Pirates looked a lot more organised than us in Armidale,” Cullen said.
Both sides have kept their core players from last year but there were a couple of key losses on each team.
Pirates will miss the darting runs and distribution of halfback Zeb Buchanan who has gone to university in Newcastle.
Former Magpies halfback Cameron Young will take the nine jersey after playing for a year in New Zealand.
Second-rower Peter Altona has also left the club.
Damaging outside centre Lachie Cameron has moved to league, whilst Matt Trindall and Kieran O’Gorman have moved.
Both clubs will be wary of the opposition but this season there is no time to play cautiously if you want to make the top tier.
“We have put a lot of emphasis on the opening round in pre-season but it hasn’t been easy,” Cullen said.
A lot of the Blues are cotton farmers and irrigation, especially this season, has taken a lot of their time.
“It has been very stop-start and it is also difficult to get them motivated after a grand final loss,” Cullen said.
On the other hand, Pirates are trying to use not making the grand final as their motivation to start strongly.
“We are notoriously bad starters,” Verrell said. “We were not up to the mark at the start of the last few seasons.
“More urgency is needed in our play because these games will set the tone for the season this year.”
The Pirates coach is all for the new system, but said the end of the season would test the club’s depth.
“It could turn out to be a war of attrition but it will be good football.”
Verrell is looking for veterans Andrew Moodie, Conrad Starr and Josh Stewart to lead the way early in the season.
Pirates will play the Magpies in what could be the only local derby of the season the following week at Rugby Park.
They will then play Gunnedah, Walcha and Moree in the following three matches.
Reserve grade will kick off at 1.30pm, with first grade at 3.15pm.