With the Commonwealth Games success of the Australian teams as motivation, local players will take to the field on Saturday at Nhill’s Davis Park when the 2018 Wimmera Hockey Association season hits off.
The early rounds of a new season are usually a bit of a mystery as off-season player movements are usually not revealed to opponents until the teams run onto the field for the first time.
The feature game will see a rematch of the 2017 Open grand final when the Yanac Tigers meet the Kaniva Cobras at 3.30pm.
The Tigers had the better of their last encounter, but the Cobras now have a taste of grand final hockey, having made the ultimate game last season for the first time, and will have the hunger to go one better. A win over the reigning premiers would be a confident start.
The other two finalists from last year, the Warrack Hoops and Dimboola Burras, meet in an earlier game and both will be looking to start with a positive result to mount a challenge to the 2017 leaders.
The other game in this division will hold as much interest as the grand final rematch, with the Horsham Hurricanes meeting the Nhill Rangers. These teams have struggled recently but at least one of them will start with some points and the opportunity to gain early momentum.
Finishing positions from last season will mean little the Women’s division.
Last year’s vanquished grand finalist, Yanac, take on the Kaniva team that qualified for the finals in 2017 for the first time in ten years, and will look to continue that improvement into 2018.
The Horsham Jets should go into their game with the Nhill Thunderbirds as favourites, given they narrowly missed the grand final last year and their opponents finished fifth.
But with the addition of a couple of experienced recruits, the Nhill team will be more of a challenging opponent this year.
Even the match-up between last year’s premiers and wooden spooners may not be as straight forward as expected.
The Dimboola Roos will be below their 2017 form as they will be missing a number of players from their grand final team, while the Warrack women will run out under the guidance of their new coach for the first time, and another year of experience in their younger players will also challenge the leading teams.