Bathurst District Football men's premier league competition is back on Sunday and this year nine teams will contest this year's competition, with eight teams based in Bathurst.
Reigning champions of Collegians will be back again looking to defend the title it won in 2020, while Abercrombie have entered two teams (Navy and Gold), as well as CSU (Red and White) and Panorama (Red and Black).
Lithgow Workmen's also have a team and Macquarie United has entered the team that went the entire second grade competition undefeated and cruising to a comfortable 5-0 win in the grand final against Eglinton.
With six spots on offer for this year's finals campaign, it's set to be a competitive winter but only one team can be crowned champions come September.
Macquarie the new boys on the block
After cruising the through the regular season undefeated before trouncing Eglinton in the decider 5-0, Macquarie United has made the step up from second grade to men's premier league in 2021 and coach Kevin Allen is confident his team can be competitive.
Allen, who has overseen the team make its way up the juniors and senior grades to the top flight, has locked in his 16 players and has finally got his hands on a goalkeeper - Connor Slattery - a name all too familiar with the cricket scene in town.
After back-to-back losses in pre-season, a few heads have dropped and while Allen believes his team will have plenty of improvement to make in the opening rounds of the competition, he thinks his team will be a competitive team in 2021.
"What I've noticed from our trials is there's a big step up from second grade to first grade," he said.
"I'm thinking it'll take four to five weeks. We hang onto the ball a bit too long and we don't mark up as tight, which in second grade was no worries.
"I reckon it'll take a bit longer to gel but the finals is a six team finals series and there's nine teams in the comp, so I'd love to sneak into that fifth or sixth spot. That's what my aim is at this time of the year."
Macquarie United's first game back in the top tier is against Lithgow Workmen's in Lithgow and Allen knows it'll be a tough game.
"I think Lithgow is very physical, so I think it'll be a tough game down in Lithgow. We're not a physical team and not a big team," he said.
Sunday's match between Macquarie and Lithgow Workmen's gets underway from 3pm at Marjorie Jackson OVal.
Can Abercrombie end grand final woes?
Abercrombie has suffered back-to-back grand final defeats in men's premier league but the club will be hoping to end its woes in 2021.
AFC has entered two teams in 2021 once again - Navy and Gold - with the former losing last year's grand final 3-2 to Collegians.
Navy coach Josh Brown said this year's team is almost the same as last year, bar talented youngster Tyler Newton, who has moved on to university in Newcastle.
Brown is confident his team has what it takes to win this year's grand final, but acknowledged the competition in 2021 will be more competitive than last year.
"I do have confidence in the team and its players but having said that, it's a really strong competition, a lot more even then it has been in the past few years," he said.
"I think it'll be pretty tough and pretty competitive, unlike last year, when there was probably three strong teams and they were always going to up there.
"This year, it could go anyway. Look at Macquarie, the young boys come in. It'll be a good test to see how they go. They're very young and fit, but they make lack a bit of fitness where our older guys might pip them."
Navy and Gold will clash in the opening round on Sunday from 3pm at Proctor Park.
Collegians wanting to go back-to-back
In the club's long awaited return to the men's premier league in 2020, Collegians went all the way and won the title with a thrilling 3-2 win over Abercrombie Navy with the final kick of the game.
But once the hunters are now the hunted and Collegians will be out to go back-to-back in 2021 with almost the same squad.
Collegians president Anthony Dunn said the only notable changes in the men's premier league team is the departure of Brodin Corby to Queensland for work, but former Western NSW FC talent Rylie Woodyatt has linked up with his former junior club this season.
"Obviously the main priority was to retain most of the squad from last year and we've done that. Brodin Corby has moved to Queensland for work but we've picked up Reilly Woodyatt who was a Collegians junior and had been playing Western NSW for the last few years, but he's coming back to play locally with us," Dunn explained.
"I think they'll be competitive again and obviously they'll be keen to go back to back. The goal will definitely be to play finals and have a crack at that.
"We're in a different situation to last year, where we were hoping to just be competitive when we came back into first grade. This year I expect we'll be competitive with the top teams from the start."
For going back-to-back, Dunn believes the men's premier league squad can do it.
"Obviously having a year under our belt for the team is great, having that same squad," he said.
"We haven't had that turnover. I think that'll benefit the guys. I think there's enough strength and quality over the park to be in with a chance."
Collegians will clash with Panorama White from 3pm at Proctor Park.
Change up in Goats' two top tier teams
After a disappointing 2020 for its Black and Red teams, Panorama is hoping for a more successful season in 2021 with its new White and Black teams.
Last year saw some of the club's top players promoted to the Western Premier League squad, leaving a gap in talent in the local teams, with the two top tier teams finishing in last two positions.
But in 2021, several WPL teams have returned to Bathurst District Football and after a change-up in both teams, Black coach Brock Collins, who will share the role alongside Nathan Davis, is hoping his team can be competitive.
"Our teams finished last and second last in 2020 first grade but we've got very, very different teams this year," he said.
"We've accepted the challenge and looked back at how our team was formed and it's not about winning, it's about taking the challenge on and doing what's right and playing with your mates.
"Those boys have stepped up from lower grades to make this new team."
Collins said he doesn't wanted to put a target on his team's back this early on, but believes his team could finish as high as second.
"We could go as far as finishing first, second, third or fourth. It's pretty open," he said.
"Top four is a great target for us, considering we finished down the bottom last year. We've got a lot of decent players in the team. Nathan is an excellent coach, so it's great to have someone like this around the team."
Collins' Black team will also feature plenty of Western Premier League talent, with the likes of Jacob Soetens and Jye Fleischmann dropping back into Bathurst District Football this year.
"We've got Jacob Soetens playing with us this year, dropping back from WPL, and we've got a few reliable players like James Cox and a few others," Collins said.
"We've also had Mitch and Lucas Brearley come across from Abercrombie.
"It's a good mix between the Red and Black teams from last year."
- Bathurst District Football's senior competitions kick-off this Sunday (juniors starting on Saturday) culminating with grand final day on Sunday, September 19.
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