The prevailing belief among followers of the Horsham District football league is that reigning premiers Harrow-Balmoral will again be the team to beat in 2019.
The Southern Roos have played in the past three grand finals, and have significantly strengthened their side this off-season, with the return of young gun Eric Guthrie and former AFL player Michael Close, who should be available to play by mid-season.
District league enthusiast and former coach Daryl Eastwell said it is hard to look past Harrow-Balmoral as the premiership favourite.
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"They look like the team to beat," Eastwell said. "They were already a really good side and they've topped up really nicely."
But Harrow-Balmoral coach Nick Pekin expects an even competition.
"There's a lot of hype going around that we are the team to beat, but you never know until you play everyone once," Pekin said. "I think a lot of teams have improved."
Perennial threat Kalkee have had an off-season defined more by departures than arrivals.
Hugo Papst, Steve Schultz and possibly Lachie Exell will be missing from last season's grand final side, but with Stuart Farr at the helm, a drop-off seems unlikely.
"You can never underestimate a Kalkee side that is coached by Stuart Farr," Eastwell said. "They will be a quick, young side and they are looking pretty good."
Eastwell said he expected Natimuk United to continue their ascent under coach Sam Anson, while Swifts could be a contender after a fruitful off-season.
"I reckon as a bit of a smokey, Swifts and Natimuk United are two sides that will definitely improve this year," Eastwell said. "They could well and truly sneak under the radar and have a real say in finals."
Laharum, Noradjuha-Quantong and Rupanyup will also be hoping to play finals.
"Laharum are always a good side, but I still think they need to pick up a few players," Eastwell said.
"Noradjuha-Quantong are improving nicely, too. They will be competitive this year."
Eastwell said the best aspect of the upcoming season was how even the competition appeared. Last season's wooden spooners Taylors Lake and Pimpinio have newfound momentum heading into the 2019 season, both with some handy signings.
Even if they aren't winning games, both sides will be far more competitive this season.
SOME OF THE KEY INS AND OUTS
EDENHOPE-APSLEY: In - Carl Slape, George Walker, Joel Lowe. Out - Corey Williams, Briley Gould, James Close, Lindsay Johnston
HARROW-BALMORAL: In - Michael Close, Eric Guthrie, Digby Sangster, Scott Addinsall. Out - Jarrod Potter, Hamish Mccrae, Hamish Thomas
JEPARIT-RAINBOW: In - Sean Pratt. Out - Ash Clugston, Tom Clugston, Sam Cranna
KALKEE: In - Riley Bryan, Cooper Price, Connor Gould, Bailey Pilgrim. Out - Hugo Papst, Steve Schultz, Lachie Exell
LAHARUM: In - Jarrod Potter, Out - Ambrose Launder, Angus Martin
NATIMUK UNITED: In - Liam Offer, Matthew Williams, Corey Emmerson. Out - Noah Brennan, Jack Ford
NORADJUHA-QUANTONG: In - Tom Cooper, Nathan Byrne, Clayton Jardine, Corey Williams. Out - Liam Dunn, Connor Gould
PIMPINIO: In - Nathan Clough, Chris Walsh, Nick Thompson. Out - Matthew White, Kyle Dumesny
RUPANYUP: In - Jesse Jesson, Tim Tyler, Jack Kreuzberger, Darby Harrison. Out - Jimmy Duxson, Corey Chenoweth
SWIFTS: In - Brett Hargreaves, Todd Matthews. Out - Ben Taylor, Andrew Cameron
TAYLORS LAKE: In - Chris Griffiths Jnr, Ricky Howard, Hezekiah Mccorry, Kirsten Hunter, Mitchell Whelan. Out - Justin Kannar, Kenny Codi, Kevin Purchase