Bulldogs coach John Hickey has bemoaned the side's lack of "team time" ahead of meeting the Roosters in a season-opener at Kitchener Park on Sunday - saying the match will be the first time the side has been together.
Blaming that on shift work, the first-year mentor likened coaching Gunnedah to coaching a rep side. "We find the players and put them together on the day," he said.
Remarkably, the Gunnedah side who will face Kootingal-Moonbi will feature only six players from the team beaten by North Tamworth in last year's grand final: Dylan Lake, Aaron Donnelly, Lachlan King, Matt Brady, KC Edmonds and Blake McIlveen.
"And the other side of it is we haven't been able to get on the paddock together ... With shift work, everyone's all over the place," Hickey said.
"So we've never had a training session where we've all been there. So, really, the first time they'll all get together is on Sunday ... Coaching Gunnedah, with all the guys in the coal mine and other shift work, it's pretty much like coaching a representative side."
Compounding the Dogs' less-than-ideal preparation is their injury toll (captain Reece Jaeger and his brother, Hayden, are sidelined) while damaging lock Hayden Smith has left Gunnedah to join his cousin, Gunnedah's 2018 No.6 DJ Smith, in Gilgandra.
Despite those setbacks, Hickey said Gunnedah would field a "very strong" side against last season's minor premiers.
Dynamic No.1 Lake has recovered from a broken leg sustained in Gunnedah's preliminary final defeat of Kooty in September.
The Bulldogs will be captained by Matt Baker, who has returned home after playing first grade for Central in Newcastle. Prior to that, he played under-20s for the Sydney Roosters.
Kooty beat the Cowboys 28-26 in round one.
Gunnedah: 1. Dylan Lake, 2. James Mapperson, 3. Aaron Donnelly, 4. Blake McIlveen, 5. Lachlan King, 6. Matt Brady, 7. Reagan Walsh, 8. Lincon Smith, 9. James Donnelly, 10. Rory Harding, 11. KC Edmonds, 12. Ben Murray, 13. Matt Baker (c), 14. Kurt Hartman, 15. Jackson Brookman (to more to be named).
Kootingal-Moonbi: 1. Anthony Smith, 2. Jack Anderson, 3. Will Saunders, 4. Jesse Campbell, 5. Jack Rumsby, 6. Brayden Jerrard, 7. Jordan Sharpe (c), 8. Chris Vidler, 9. Ben Williams, 10. Ben Erwin, 11. Logan Howard, 12. Zach Hatch, 13. Cameron McDonald, 14. TBA, 15. Jake McLaughlan, 16. Liam Hatch, 17. Brodie Sowter.