It may seem like the rugby league season began more than a month ago but for Group 11 fans the real action starts this weekend.
Since 2013 only two clubs have won Group 11 first grade premierships but after an off-season which saw massive changes at all eight clubs, the 2019 title race shapes as one of the most open in some time.
Defending premiers Forbes and Dubbo powerhouse CYMS are certain not to have things all their own way this season with the likes of Wellington and Nyngan attracting some marquee signings during the summer.
Can either of those break through and end title droughts? Can the development at Parkes, Macquarie, and Narromine result in real progress? And what to make of Dubbo Westside after one of the most tumultuous off-season ever experienced by a Group 11 club.
There's a huge amount of questions which will be answered during the coming months but one thing is certain - exceptional rugby league will again be on show.
The Daily Liberal's Nick Guthrie looks ahead at what we might see this season.
Coach:Cameron Greenhalgh (second season)
Last season: Premiers (fourth regular season)
Notable additions: Josh Toole (Sheffield, England), Bailey Hartwig (Mackay Cutters), Hayden Robinson (Trundle), Tongia Fox, Matt Roylance
Notable losses: Jake Grace (retired), Charlie Staines (Penrith), Ben Robinson (retired), Farren Lamb (Oberon Tigers), Jarred Tyack (Orange CYMS), Traie Merritt (Bathurst St Pat's).
Player to watch: Bailey Hartwig. Is set to slot into the halves or fullback and offers real versatility and a spark for the Magpies. Despite being in is early 20s Hartwig is already vastly experienced having returned home after time with the Canberra Raiders program and the Mackay Cutters in Queensland. His goal-kicking could be important too.
Big question: Will the retired stars pull the boots on again? After the grand final win last season Jake Grace, Ben Robinson and Ben Maguire all said that would be it. Maguire is already back and whispers are the inspirational Jake Grace could come back at some stage as well. If he does, he could be just what the Magpies need to go back-to-back. The other big issue for Forbes is replacing explosive young fullback Charlie Staines.
The quote: "It's easier to walk away when you win but it's a challenge for me and the players, we'll see how we go." Coach Cameron Greenhalgh
Verdict: All the talk from Forbes is the Magpies in 2019 will be even stronger than the side which won last season's title. We won't know if that's the case for a few months yet but every indication is this side will be right there again. Former Irish international Josh Toole is set to have a massive impact and in Cameron Greenhalgh they've got arguably the best coach in the Western Rams region. After winnin the title in 2016 they failed to live up to the hype the following season. That won't happen again this year.
Predicted regular season finish: Minor premiers
Coach:Jarryn Powyer (first season)
Last season: Runners-up
Notable additions: John Ciappara (Macquarie), Jayden Merritt (Macquarie), Cameron Dennis, Tom Yeo, Matt Toole
Notable losses: Matt Burton (Penrith), Nick Harvey (Mudgee Dragons), Bayden Searle (Newcaslte), Jack Kempston (Wellington)
Player to watch: Hamish Astill. Can he take the mantle from the legendary Luke Jenkins (if the veteran continues playing this season) and become CYMS' starting hooker in 2019? He appears every chance to do that after getting better each season in recent years. Fast, strong, and smart in support play, Astill can be a vital figure for the Fishies this season and that will especially be the case if the new-look halves combinations takes time to gel.
Big question: How does Powyer deal with the amazing depth at the club in 2019? The battle between Jenkins, Astill and Wade Kavanagh for hooker is one of many at CYMS. There's plenty of options in the halves as well, while the lack of size could see plenty of players being shuffled around in the forwards. The rookie mentor has some tough decisions and hard conversations to have and the way he handles that will decide how well CYMS performs.
The quote: "Winning is just an expectation. We talk about expectation at training and if we're not winning then we're not doing our job because the club's expectations are so high." Captain-coach Jarryn Powyer
Verdict: There's no doubt CYMS is going to a consistent rugby league machine again in 2019 but with almost every other side improving and Tim Ryan now not in the coach's role, the Fishies aren't going to have everything go their way. Despite all that, it won't be a shock at all if it's Powyer lifting the silverware in September.
Predicted regular season finish: Second
Coach:Justin Toomey-White and Aidan Ryan (first and second seasons)
Last season: Second
Notable additions: Travis Waddell (Souths Logan), Dave Dryden (Newcastle Rugby League), Steve Gordon (Newcastle Rugby League), Tristan Lumley (Tweed Heads Seagulls), Wade Peachey (Macquarie), Jack Kempston (Dubbo CYMS), Mason Williams (unattached), Darrell Kemp (Westside), Dennis Moran (Parkes)
Notable losses: Richard Peckham (Oberon Tigers), AJ Davis
Player to watch: Tristan Lumley. Co-coach Aidan Ryan has already tipped him to be the Group 11 player of the year and it's easy to see why. Lumley looks set to be a perfect replacement for Justin Toomey-White, who is unlikely to play this season due to his cancer treatment. A lean, hard-running back-rower or centre, Lumley has everything needed to take this competition by storm.
Big question: Is there enough creativity? The loss of key half AJ Davis just weeks out from the season was a massive blow and Peckham's departure also robs the side of some spark. The signing of bush footy legend Dennis Moran is a real coup and Mason Williams will be very handy as well. The forwards have plenty of strike power but is there someone who can really break a game open in the big moments?
The quote: "I coached from the sideline once and it did my head in. It's going to be a different challenge and I'll learn from it and be better for it. I've got the utmost faith in the boys. They'll do a job out there." Co-coach Justin Toomey-White
Verdict: The Cowboys could well be the real deal this season. The 26-year title drought is something Wellington fans are all too familiar with and there is real excitement this could the year the side takes the next big step. There's certain to be inconsistency at times, that happens with most Cowboys sides, but there's no doubt this team loaded with big names can deliver a title this season.
Predicted regular season finish: Third
Coach:Brent Wood (first season)
Last season: Third
Notable additions: Sam Dwyer (Bathurst St Pat's), Brandon Tago (Bathurst St Pat's), Matt Clark (Eugowra).
Notable losses: Lewis Dwyer (Cowra), Alex Prout (Orange Hawks).
Player to watch: Sam Dwyer. No doubt about it. Arguably the best fullback in the western area is back home at Parkes after a season in Group 10. Not the biggest player and not the fastest but as tough and as smart as they come. He will add a huge amount to a Parkes side eyeing real success this season.
Big question: Can they maintain the rage? Admittedly there was a lot of injuries, but the Parkes Spacemen faded poorly last season and were bounced out of the finals in straight sets. Improving fitness and consistency across the season has been spoken about and that, along with providing support for leading halfback Chad Porter, will be key.
The quote: "There's a lot more locals in the side. The last year I was here a lot of blokes came from Sydney but it's good to have a lot of locals who are keen. You play for your town and that something on your jumper means a little bit more." Coach Brent Wood.
Verdict: Is it possible for a side to get better but finish lower on the ladder? That could well be the case for Parkes this season. There's going to be definite improvement this year but the concern is there's been a lot of improvement at other clubs, as well. A team driven by a strong local core has the talent to push top teams but they may just been the odd man out in 2019.
Predicted regular season finish: Sixth
Coach:Wes Middleton (first season)
Last season: Fifth
Notable additions: Wes Middleton (Narromine), Beau Satrick (Cairns), Lui Lockington (Cairns), Aaron Daniel (Cairns), Will Middleton Jnr, Filisione Pauta (rugby union), Moa Kavaefiafi (rugby union)
Notable losses: Dylan Hill (Narromine), Kurt Fuller (Westside), Jade Hooper, Jai Merritt (Nyngan), Ash Widders (Nyngan), John Ciappara (Dubbo CYMS), Jayden Merritt (Dubbo CYMS), Hayden Chapman (Dubbo CYMS), Wade Peachey (Wellington)
Player to watch: Beau Satrick. Could Group 11 be treated to a new entertainer this season? Satrick is someone captain-coach Wes Middleton has been keen to work with and after things didn't work out at Narromine last season they get their chance now. Satrick offers versatility and the kind of attacking spark which has been lacking at Macquarie for some time.
Big question: Can a completely new-look team put it together? Most teams in Group 11 have gone through plenty of change in the off-season but nothing compares to the revolution occurring at the Raiders. Middleton and the board want to change the club's approach on and off the field and that kind of thing takes time. The team for round one will look nothing like the side which played last season and while early signs are positive Middleton will need them playing together as a unit very quickly.
The quote: "We want to finish in that top two." Captain-coach Wes Middleton
Verdict: If the Raiders can put it together there's no doubt they can achieve big things but Middleton will need his new-look side to click, particularly in defence. There's no real point comparing this Raiders team to the last few years but scoring points has always been an issue. The talent is now there. It's just a matter of it coming to the fore. It's very early days but they could be battling Parkes for a spot int he finals.
Predicted regular season finish: Fifth
Coach:Justin Carney (first season)
Last season: Sixth
Notable additions: Justin Carney (Hull), Jai Merritt (Macquarie), Ash Widders (Macquarie), Brad Clavering (Hull), Sam Simmons
Notable losses: None
Player to watch: Jai Merritt. Justin Carney is the easy choice and it goes without saying he's going to be one of the best players we've seen in this competition in some time. But he can't do it all himself and in Jai Merritt the Tigers have got a genuine playmaker. Lost his way a little last season but now playing at Nyngan alongside his brother Josh, Jai has the chance to really put a stamp on the competition and create chance after chance for this massively talented team.
Big question: Can they handle the expectation? Ask nearly everyone in the Group 11 community who's the side to beat in 2019 and most of the time the answer comes back as Nyngan. Carney's signing created a real buzz and he's just part of a side loaded with talent. There's also going to be depth, which something Nyngan has always lacked. But can they handle being the one everyone is talking about gunning for? The passionate Nyngan fans will have high expectations for this season.
The quote: "Bringing the town together, that's what I want to do. I want everyone from the town at the game. The town's been a big part of how I got where I did." Captain-coach Justin Carney
Verdict: This team is the real deal. Points won't be an issue and there won't be any attacking combination better than the Tigers quartet of Carney, Jai Merritt, Josh Merritt, and Jacob Neill in the competiton. Carney's wealth of talent should see him be able to get the Tigers back to a defensive powerhouse as well and if he can do that then there may well be no stopping them.
Predicted regular season finish: Third
Coach: Dylan Hill (first season)
Last season: Seventh
Notable additions: Dylan Hill (Macquarie), Travis Hill (Westside), Peter Wong (Fiji), Walter Kala (Fiji), Ratu Roko (Fiji).
Notable losses: Wes Middleton (Macquarie), Will Middleton
Player to watch: Dylan Hill. Fair to say Hill isn't going to be the most exciting player we see this season but after a horror run with injuries for the best part of two years he's back on the field. The captain-coach will provide some much-needed go-forward and experience on the field and will be able to guide the side's many young players. He needs to stay injury free for the Jets to be at their best.
Big question: Will the side be happy with small steps? There's a great buzz at Narromine and would be brilliant for the competition if the Jets were in the finals mix again. But with so much talent in Group 11 now the Jets can't go comparing themselves with others and need to be happy with the progress they're making on and off the field. The new players can't drop their heads if the team goes a stretch without winning.
The quote: "I used to see how competitive Narromine were growing up. They were such fierce competitors. I'd love to get that mentality back." Captain-coach Dylan Hill
Verdict: Good things are happening at Narromine. Only a win in the final round last year saw them avoid the wooden spoon and while the side will be better this season it might not be enough to make a real impact yet. There's a real mix of youth and experience now and the Jets are going to push some sides in 2019. Finals might be just out of reach though.
Predicted regular season finish: Seventh
Coach:Paul Hausia (first season)
Last season: Eighth
Notable additions: Kurt Fuller (Macquarie)
Notable losses: Claude Gordon (Cowra), Darrell Kemp (Wellington), Matt Naden (Cowra)
Player to watch: Kaidyn Mohr. A young player who has been in the Westside program for a number of years now, the tough and versatile Mohr will take on extra responsibility this season and is co-captain alongside Kurt Fuller. Watching him deal with that as well as well as being a key player for the battling side will be of real interest.
Big question: Can the Rabbitohs stick solid? This year will be tough for Westside. No doubt about it. But hard work has started off the field so there's promise for 2020 and beyond. But the side has got to get there first and sticking by the club and turning up week in, week out when times are tough is what the club needs in 2019.
The quote: "It's going to be a tough season and we've made that clear. That's unfortunate but we're all adults and we need to stick together as mates and make it work." Coach Paul Hausia
Verdict: Even the most passionate Westside fan would find it tough to think a finals appearance is on the cards in 2019. Wins will be hard to come by but if the players can keeping putting in the work right through to the end of the season then it can be considered a step in the right direction.
Predicted regular season finish: Eighth