No Jaeger brothers. No Smith cousins. No Callum Hayne. No worries: a new-look Gunnedah side launched their 2019 campaign under their new coach, John Hickey, with a 46-18 drubbing of Kootingal-Moonbi at Kitchener Park on Sunday.
Despite fielding only five members of their 2018 grand final team and, according to Hickey, having a disjointed off-season due to player unavailability, Gunnedah mugged Kooty in the second half - scoring seven tries to one - after leading 16-14 at the break.
Late in the contest, Roosters halfback and captain Jordan Sharpe and Bulldogs prop Rory Harding, sporting a cut over the eye, were matched by veteran referee James Brown after a melee. But at that stage it was all over - the home side launching their season in style after having a bye in round one.
Gunnedah No.6 Matt Brady, one of three Dogs to post a brace of tries, said his forwards "set a good platform".
He added: "I thought we really, really worked to our structure well. Everyone knew what they were doing. It was good communication out there. [We] just kept working on that left edge all day, and just played off the back of that."
Their second-half dismantling of the Roosters was surprising given the closeness the first 40 minutes, highlighted by Kooty pair, centre Jesse Campbell and winger Jack Rumsby, forming a lethal right-edge combination on the western side of the field that yield two tries: one to Rumsby, a smooth-moving flyer, and one to slightly built No.6 Brayden Jerrard.
Another highlight should have been a try trifecta to Bulldogs centre Aaron Donnelly. He scored the match's first try, after winger Paul Sharply streaked down the eastern side of the field and then sent Donnelly over with an inside pass.
He should have scored 19 minutes later by finishing off a slick backline movement. But as he ran in the in-goal area to improve the position, he inexplicably passed, while under slight pressure from a defender, to five-eighth Matt Brady, who touched down under the posts. No.9 James Donnelly, among the numerous new faces in the side, converted and the Bulldogs trailled 14-12.
Five minutes later, Donnelly did not have a chance to be so generous (foolhardy). He scooped up a dropped ball by Kooty No.15 Jake McLoughlin on the Roosters' tryline and crashed over.
New Gunnedah centre Blake McIlveen, whose longstanding mullet is award-worthy, got the second-half party started for the Dogs when he scored in the 44th minute (he would go on to cross twice) - with the other tries posted by Brady, fullback Dylan Lake, captain Matt Baker and halfback Kurt Hartmann.
Menacing all match, Lake finally broke through Kooty's defence when he bobbled a pass close to the Roosters' tryline, grubbered and won the race to the ball - diving on it just before it went dead. Classic Lake.
Brady, whose kicking in general play was typically influential, said the match was harder fought than the scoreline suggested. But, really, only the first half was a tight tussle.
Second-rower Baker - a former Sydney Roosters under-20 player and a former Newcastle first-grader - scored an adventurous long-rang try, and picked up three points as man of the match. Dogs prop Lincon Smith and Kooty rake Ben Williams snared two points and one point.
Gunnedah 46 (Aaron Donnelly 2, Blake McIlveen 2, Matt Brady 2, Dylan Lake, Lachlan King, Matt Baker tries; James Donnelly 3, Jimmy Pascoe 2 goals) d Kootingal-Moonbi 18 (Will Saunders, Jack Rumsby, Brayden Jerrard, Ben Williams tries; Anthony Smith goal)