Welcome to the Central Western Daily's official season preview for the 2021 Blowes Cup season
This year the rugby competition will comprise of six teams, two from Orange and one apiece from Dubbo, Bathurst, Forbes and Cowra.
The question everyone's asking is 'who can topple Emus?'
The men in green are fresh off another grand final triumph, putting away surprise packets Orange City.
This year at Endeavour Oval, Pete Bromley's men will look to win back-to-back titles, but can they do it?
Let's find out.
SQUAD: Charlie Henley, Michael Kennedy, Michael Graham, Sam McLean Nick Hughes-Clapp, Angus Sharp, Simon Badgery, Harry Edwards, Jack Marchinton, Sam Greatbatch, Scott McLean, Shahid Khalfan, Archie Weston, Angus Roberts, Tom Joseph, Jake Ritchie, Lachie Harris, Nigel Staniforth, Oscar Hunt, Harry Cummins, Jamil Khalfan, Louis Carr, Digby Cooper, Steve Fergus.
COACH: Pete Bromley
CLUB SAYS: After sitting at the pointy end of the competition ladder for the best part of a decade, Bromley knows his men have a target on their back.
The defending premiers have retained a large portion of its core group from last year, but will have to recover from the loss of starting props Archie Hall and Nas Havealeta.
"We can't replace those guys overnight but we've got some players to come in," Bromley said.
"Digby Cooper is going to come up from the 19s. He's been with us all pre-season."
As for their rivals, Bromley's mindful of them all.
"We're treating everyone with respect and I think everyone will be out to beat Emus, but that's not anything unusual," he said.
"Nobody really knows what Cowra's got, so they're the x-factor because they didn't play last year. Orange City were building nicely last year and we always have a good battle with Bathurst, while Dubbo have a new coach and more players coming.
"I think it will be a very competitive season this year."
PLAYER TO WATCH: There may not be a bigger signing in all of the Central West than Angus Roberts to the Emus.
The former Melbourne Rebels player will wear the number 10 jersey for the reigning premiers this season.
Despite being out of football for a few years, there are few doubts that his class will shine through on the field.
2020 FINISH: Premiers
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Premiers. How could you pick anyone else? While Emus have lost their premiership-winning front row pairing, as well as last year's five-eight Carter Hirini, they bring in Shahid Khalfan and Gus Roberts, and already have insane depth in the lower grades. If either Bulldogs or Kangaroos had made massive strides in the off-season, you might be able to relegate Emus a place or two. But, they haven't, so we won't.
SQUAD: Sia Nemani, Josh Tremain, Kyle Lawson, Kieran Bonin, Tom Fenton, Colin McGregor, Harrry Taberner, Logan Buckley, Dave McQueeny, Traye Hodge, Billy Thompson, Logan Brockman, Fletcher Rose, Jack Connors, Duncan Young, Jesse Pavlovich, Jimmy Ostini, AJ McNiven, Darcy Holmes, Tom West, Liam McAnulty, Lewis Dwyer, Darcy Mills, Tom O'Connor, Liam Henley, Sean Carpenter, Henry Bouffler
COACH: Viv Paasi
CLUB SAYS: Numbers have been up and down during pre-season for last year's runners up.
They have also had a "fair few" players leave the club, but captain Josh Tremain says now is the time when others have to step up to the mark.
"This year is all about the new faces that come up. This is their shot, their time to shine," he said.
"Teams are going to be critical saying we 'won't go any good without our league players.'
"But it's exciting times. I don't know what to expect but this time last year I didn't know either. The main this will be to not let go of all the good work we did last year."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Kieran Bonin had an injury-run to forget in 2020 with appendicitis and a broken nose, just to name a few things.
But the second-rower is healthy once again and could be key for City going one better than last year.
2020 FINISH: Second
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Sixth. Everyone saw the miraculous run this team went on last year, but something like that is so hard to replicate, especially after losing a stack of talent. Steven Widders was a shining light for the club at fullback last season and has moved on to Newcastle with long-time halfback Tom Nell following suit. This isn't to say there's no potential in the team, though. Josh Tremain, Logan Brockman and Kieran Bonin make up a stout forward pack, but with no real star power coming in to replace the departures, we'll tip them to take a step back.
COACH: Paul Hausia
CLUB SAYS: Belief in yourself. That's what will stand between Dubbo and a title run this year according to coach Paul Hausia.
But don't talk to him about lifting the cup just yet, as he is taking things one week at a time.
"You can't go past Orange Emus," he said of who to watch out for this year.
"They've been the platform of the Blowes Cup for the last couple of years. Orange Emus has always maintained standards of playing consistent and disciplined football as well.
"I put the responsibility back on the players that if they want a position within first grade that it must come down to attitude. Right across the board I think that we're pretty strong.
PLAYER TO WATCH: By Hausia's own admittance, prop was a position that was lacking for the 'Roos in 2020.
That is why he hopes the pickup of Rob McNamara will help bolster the position.
McNamara comes down from Queensland having played "a bit of representative football", so only time will tell if his impact will be felt on the field.
2020 FINISH: Third
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Fourth. Dubbo is set to start the season with a seriously undermanned squad, but once they get a few troops back, should have enough class to scrape into the finals. Don't expect it to be easy, though.
SQUAD: Matt Trapp, Dale Norris, Tom Felsch, Sam Maher, Peter Fitzsimmons, Will Oldham, Joel Harper, Brad Glasson, Justin Mobbs, Buzz Webber, Hunter Davis, Sione Naufahu, Adam Plummer, Josh Weekes, Bailey Warren, Josh Carter, Tom Natoli, Mark Donnelly, Harry Peacock, Lewis Dunshea, Bryce Rue, Ben Sheppeard, Scott Johnston, Cam Sinclair, Kurt Weekes.
COACH: Mick Leseberg
CLUB SAYS: Skipper Peter Fitzsimmons admits that numbers at training have been somewhat concerning, but the hopes are still high at Ashwood Park.
"Our top goal is to finish in first position," he said.
"There's nothing more valuable than that first home semi... it's a much easier road to the grand final from there."
Matt McRobert coached Bulldogs to within an inch of a grand final berth last winter, but it will be the relatively unknown Mick Leseberg to take on the top job this season.
"He's always been around the club to give some fresh ideas," he said.
"He might be exactly what we need."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Justin Mobbs is a player the skipper is excited to see perform, as well as the returning Hunter Davis.
2020 FINISH: Fourth
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Third. This seems a fair rating for the Bulldogs. They haven't recruited massively in the off-season, but have always been there when the whips are cracking. Fitzsimmons admission that training numbers have been low is a slight concern, but there's more than enough talent and experience there as it is.
SQUAD: Gabe Brown, Joe Sullivan, Tom Cummins, Chris Miller, Damo Michaels, Ben Watt, Will Turner, Tim Berry, Fergus Carney, Troy Jeffs, Vilikesa Koilagi, Bill Cummins, Jeremy Montgomery, Zane Southwell, Navitali Bola.
COACH: Colin Kilby
CLUB SAYS: The Eagles are buzzing to be back, although things will look a little different than years past.
An overhaul of the club's facilities has many around the town excited for what's to come in 2021, but as for the product on the park, coach Colin Kilby says they are still seeing the impact of the pandemic.
"We've got a young side, but unlike previous years where we've had backpackers boost numbers, that's not happening because of the COVID situation," he said.
"This puts us in a different situation but also one that's positive as we are looking at all locals. We've got some young guys coming through and we'll look to build those combinations with new players and put a competitive side out every week in two grades.
"I think those towns with bigger numbers population wise is a bit of a bonus for those clubs, but it gives us that extra motivation being the smaller town to dig in and be the underdogs a little bit."
PLAYER TO WATCH: With the lack of backpackers, it will be up to old heads such as Jeremy Montgomery to lead by example and guide the young players.
Having joined the club back in 2005, Montgomery has played more than 200 first grade games since then and will be calling on all that experience for this go around.
2020 FINISH: Did not compete.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Second.We're expecting the Eagles to return to their winning ways this winter. They're bred tough out that way, and their forward pack is as imposing and aggressive as it gets. With no top grade league side over there, they've surely picked up a few extra blokes as well.
SQUAD: Charlie French, Will Nash, Rusi Lawanikula, Brenton Howarth, Timoci Waqaisavou, Tom Menzies, Andrew Hubbard, Matt Coles, Minti Tonga, Mahe Fangupo, Tom Maguire, Andrew Saar, Nathaniel Lagilagi, John Monk, Daniel Sweeney
COACH: Heamani Lavaka
CLUB SAYS: Who is the team to watch out for in 2021? For most, it's the Emus that first comes to mind.
But for Platypi coach Heamani Lavaka, there is a different side that should be feared.
"I reckon a team to look out for and who could be a little bit of a surprise after the last two years is us," he said.
"This year is one of the best pre-seasons we've ever done for the last four years.
"We got about six or seven players who have never played first grade before who have come up through the ranks of second grade and Colts.
"I love having younger players or new players coming in. They are very excited to taste what first grade is like. They have been waiting for these moments for a couple years now."
PLAYER TO WATCH: It would be an understatement to say that getting Mahe Fangupo back after his stint for Newcastle in the Shute Shield is huge for the Platypi.
He will bring a new level to a side filled with youth and "one of the best players" in the competition from the past five years according to his coach.
But rather than the regular No.9, Fangupop will be playing 5/8th for the Forbes outfit.
2020 FINISH: Fifth.
2021 PREDICTED FINISH: Fifth. With a plethora of young players coming through the ranks, the Platypi should be primed to finish the season with a wet sail. But, it might be tricky to get into a groove starting the season off. They might be duking it out with Dubbo for fourth spot at the back end of the year.
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
HAVE YOUR SAY: