WILL the Saints men and women march their way back into grand finals? Can Souths take the next step to put their games away? Is this the year Bathurst City make their return to finals?
There are plenty of burning questions ahead of this year's Central West Premier League Hockey campaign, which gets underway this Saturday, and Bathurst's teams are ready to answer them.
We haven't seen a Bathurst side claim a premiership since the Saints men were victorious in the 2019 grand final and the last time two of the city's teams won in the same year was 2010 when St Pat's men beat Lithgow Panthers 4-3 in extra-time and Bathurst City women defeated St Pat's 1-0.
The four Bathurst teams involved across the men's and women's competitions would love to add that part of the history books.
Every side has had to deal with a raft of player movements and they've been working hard to get their formations and combinations in order to try and create a season for them to remember.
We're here to take a look at how the Bathurst teams feel about their outlook on the season before hitting the turf this Saturday.
BATHURST CITY WOMEN
BATHURST City come into a new Central West Premier League Hockey campaign with another youthful team, looking to make a mark on the competition through their fitness and enthusiasm.
Usually designating a squad as 'youthful' can give the impression that a side that lacks the experience to take down the big guns of a competition, but don't think for a moment that City's young side can't trouble everyone in 2022.
The team also welcome back last year's coach Mal Willott for the new campaign.
Willott brought out the best in a team that racked up three wins and two draws from their 13 games.
There were several losses in that campaign that City could have avoided through that extra bit of experience under pressure, and Willott hopes that a season of those close calls can have the group battle-ready, starting this Saturday.
"We've got a young group, much the same as what we had last year. We have a couple of players out this year, one who's moved away and another who's pregnant, but we have a couple who are back in," he said.
"I think we can compete this year because this similar team got better and better when they played last year. Hopefully we can just continue on from that."
While he'll be working with a similar group, Willott said the team's approach to the game will need to undergo somewhat of an overhaul given the new players he'll have on board.
"I do feel that some of it will get changed around a little bit," he said of the team's tactical identity.
"The players who are coming back in will shuffle our team around and some of the younger ones are taking positions of greater responsibility.
"They're that little bit older and that little bit more experienced, so I'm sure they will be ready to step up and play to the level that's required."
City welcomes back Bec Arrow (nee Bosianek) for the new competition, following the birth of her child last year, though a calf injury will see her miss the start of the season this Saturday.
Sarah McCusker will also give City some welcome defensive strength in her return.
Willott said there's plenty of talent in his side who can match it with just about anyone in the competition.
"I'd look to players like Emily Thompson and our keeper, Maddie, who has been training really well and looks keen for the season," he said.
"She's very determined to play country again. We also have a lot of juniors who look ready to put their hands up this year."
COACH: Mal Willott.
IN: Bec Arrow, Sarah McCusker.
OUT: Ange Behan, Kelby Pointin.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Emily Thompson.
SEASON 2021: Seventh (3 wins, 2 draws, 8 losses).
HE'S new to coaching in the Central West Premier League and only had the pre-season to work with Souths, but Scott Hanrahan already has faith in his squad.
Teaming up with Annie Pakinga to coach Souths this season, Hanrahan has quickly learned there is a wealth of talent on the two blues' playing roster.
He's delighted to have the likes of former Souths talents Mandy Griffiths, Jess Watterson and Ash Corby on deck to add to their experienced core and emerging talents.
"Ash Corby is back, she's just got a really good eye and knows where to be. She's a quite achiever Ash, but she's going to be pretty important to our season I believe," he said.
"Sophie McCauley is an asset, Sarah White and Jess Watterson, she was there for gala day and she'll still be around the camp.
"In terms of young players, Samantha Brown, I'm really impressed with her, and Emma Siejka has been doing some good stuff in the pre-season as well."
It's the kind of squad Hanrahan believes can be contenders and both himself and Pakinga share the goal of the playing group to end a seven-year finals drought.
"I like to set a goal for the year and that goal needs to be in line with the group as well. Obviously Annie and I want us to be successful, but that success has got to be determined in the playing group also," he said.
"From the moment I've come into the club it has been made very clear that the girls do want to play finals this year, they just missed out the last couple of years.
"They believe they have got what it takes to do that and everything I have seen so far tells me we have what it takes to give that every chance."
While it remains to be seen if Souths can make a return to finals hockey, one goal Hanrahan will no doubt tick off is his desire to see emerging talents get a taste of Premier League.
"One of the goals for me this year is to start to bring in some of the young girls, introduce them to premier league and that level of hockey. They've got some young kids who are doing good things in WRAS and AAP," he said.
"They're the future obviously and I couldn't ask for a better group of women to get around the young girls coming in, getting around them and really supporting them."
CO-COACHES: Scott Hanrahan, Annie Pakinga.
IN: Ash Corby, Jess Watterson, Mandy Griffiths.
OUT: Tahni Isedale, Kelsie Whyte.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ash Corby.
SEASON 2021: Sixth (2 wins, 7 draws, 4 losses).
ST PAT'S WOMEN
SIMPLE hockey executed well - that is what St Pat's coach Bec Clayton thinks can help her side be a force in the 2022 women's Central West Premier League competition.
Clayton, who coached the Saints to a premiership in 2013, has returned this season to guide her beloved blue and whites.
Though some of the players she spent years alongside on the field - Kristy Ekert, Carly Sandry and Lucy Weal - won't be part of the roster this season, there are some things that will stay the same.
That's aiming to have the players focus on executing the basics well and working together as a unit.
"For me, I just want to keep things really simple. I think sometimes we tend to over think things and try to do all these spectacular kind of things, but I just want to do all the simple things right," Clayton said.
"If you do the simple things right then you're going to win matches.
"So our big focus is not to be showy, we're going to work together as a team and just do the little things well.
"If I can keep it simple everyone knows what they are doing and then if one of the younger girls step in, they know what their roles are and what they have to."
Though having lost the aforementioned experienced trio, the Saints have picked up some handy recruits. They include representative star and former Lithgow Panther Hannah Kable.
"Lilly Kable played with us last year and Hannah wants to come and play with her sister this year, she played with Panthers a couple of years ago and has been in New South Wales squads, so she's a pretty handy pick up," Clayton said.
"Having that combination with Hannah, Lilly and Millie [Fulton] up front there, I think that's really exciting.
"We've also got Savannah Draper from Parkes, so we've got an excellent defender there."
Clayton is also aiming to give some of the Saints' emerging talents time in Premier League this season to help fill out her roster.
"We're a little bit short on the bench this year, I've got a really good 11 or 12, but my depth isn't quite there," she said.
"I'm hoping to, once juniors starts, hopefully find a little diamond in the rough or a couple of them that we can coach up for prem.
"There are a couple of young players there, who with a little bit of coaching, can step into that prem role, even if it's only five or six minutes a go, just to give somebody a rest and give them a taste. You've got to do that, you've got to blood them."
COACH: Bec Clayton.
IN: Hannah Kable, Savannah Draper.
OUT: Carly Sandry, Kristy Ekert, Lucy Weal.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Hannah Kable.
SEASON 2021: Fourth (8 wins, 1 draw, 4 losses).
ST PAT'S MEN
WHEN you lose a grand final after a season of positive play it can leave plenty of pain among a team's ranks, so the Saints will look to use that disappointment as a motivator for a year of improvement.
Much of the team who were bested 3-0 in that grand final are back for the new season although several veteran players have stepped back in 2022, leaving some younger squad members to step up.
Niel Howard is on board to coach the Saints for 2022.
In the pre-season he's been focused on one facet of the game more than anything else: fitness.
He's been pleased by the commitment the squad has shown the building up that part of their game and he hopes it will remain a strength for the club when the season begins.
"We started training in February, since gala day was in the middle of nowhere, so I didn't want to throw the guys a stick and say 'Go and play this'. The boys are looking good," he said.
"We've lost a couple of older players but we've got a couple of juniors that we're bringing through.
"We've been training really well at fitness and skills training. We've been averaging 12 to 14 players at fitness training, week in and week out. We're doing around 4.5km each session, splitting it up between some distance and some shorter and sharper stuff.
"The intensity in stick work has been great and we'll probably lift that up another level in intensity over this week leading into the opening round."
Losing the likes of Jaden Ekert and Brent Naylor takes away the Saints' two leading penalty corner options, but there's still a stack of experienced talent ready to fill those shoes.
Having former state representative Luke Thorncraft back in the mix for Pat's will go a long way towards helping bolster the Saints up front.
"Andre Rossitt and Luke Thorncraft are in, and there's Blake Livingstone, Logan Spears and Will Daymond that we've brought up through our junior squad," Howard said.
"We've still got juniors coming through who aren't quite ready to take that Premier League step, but these three have been training with us week in and week out and they'll be good."
The Saints have also made some changes to their leadership group.
"Riley Hanrahan and Tyler Willott are our joint captains. Prakash Titheradge is vice-captain. Cameron Lyles is there and we also have Shane Conroy back as well," Howard said.
"Tyler and Riley are young guys who are going to provide great leadership and I'm confident that they're going to lead the team well."
Saints last won the men's title in 2019 but didn't get the chance to defend their victory the next year when the competition was cancelled.
They didn't take a backward step following the break, but didn't have an answer for the Lithgow Storm in last year's grand final.
Pat's will hope their new-look side can find the right combinations to bring down their Lithgow rivals.
COACH: Niel Howard.
IN: Andre Rossitt, Luke Thorncraft, Blake Livingstone, Logan Spears, Will Daymond.
OUT: Jaden Ekert, Brent Naylor, Ryan Neale, Zac Sharp, Dayne Houlison.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Tyler Willott.
SEASON 2021: Second (8 wins, 1 draw, 2 losses).
ROUND ONE DRAW
- WOMEN: Orange CYMS vs Bathurst City 1.30pm, Orange United vs St Pat's 3.10pm, Lithgow Panthers vs Souths (1.30pm)
- MEN: Lithgow Storm vs Orange Wanderers 1.50pm, Parkes vs St Pat's 1.40pm
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