WESTERN Phantoms will launch their 2014 Victorian Volleyball League campaign with two big double-headers at Horsham Basketball Stadium at the weekend.
The premier and reserves men's teams will play two matches each in the season opening round, while the division two men, reserves women and division two women have byes.
Premier men newcomer Victoria University will travel to Horsham for the matches.
Phantoms coach David Berry said his team would start the match as favourite to win, with uncertainty over Victoria University's line-up.
"It remains to be seen how their team will stack up from a premier men's perspective," he said.
"Their best player is out of the country on an overseas contract and he won't be back until next month.
"He's one of two players they've got who are overseas on contracts and it will be interesting to see what they come up with."
Berry said there were no such doubts about his own squad, which he said would reap the benefits of its first season in premier division last year.
He said players such as Brad Mason, Chris Radford and Ashby Smith would have more stability.
The Phantoms did not make the finals last year but were in the hunt for a place well into the second half of the season.
Berry said his team would be a strong finals contender if it managed to win its close matches this season.
The Phantoms competed at the 40th annual Warrnambool Seaside Tournament at the weekend, and despite not qualifying for the final, Berry said the tournament had been positive.
New recruit Paolo Antonio Mecci is a big addition for the team.
The Italian Mecci was named the Federation Internationale de Volleyball best blocker for 2012 on the international beach tour. He was also voted best newcomer in 2011.
Berry said Mecci would give the team an edge.
"He's about 198 centimetres tall so he's going to give us a huge boost," he said.
Brady King and Tim Eldridge will not play this season after choosing to play football and Matt Hallowell is out due to a knee injury.
Berry said the reserves men also looked like finals contenders this season.
Paddy Sherry and Jack Hannan will debut for the team, while Nathan Berry has made the move up permanently.
Mildura's Zac Hermans who was picked to play on the Australian youth team at a tournament in Thailand next month will also debut for the reserves.
Berry said the Phantoms hoped for a big home crowd in their first outings of the year.
For Phantoms fixtures, teams, results and a player profile on Jack Hannan, see page 73