APPEARANCES from several former AFL players, many of them on limited game contracts, will highlight what is tipped to be a tightly contested Gippsland League in 2013.
The move will change the game in the region and set a precedent for the future.
Former Collingwood players Tarkyn Lockyer and Anthony Rocca are expected to play three to four games each for Morwell under new coach, Harmit Singh, who has spent the past five years as Community Engagement Officer at the Magpies.
They, like all players, need to play just two games to qualify for the finals.
Former Essendon player Andrew Lovett will play at least one match for Maffra.
The ex-Bomber will take to the field for the Eagles against Bairnsdale in round two.
Former Carlton player and now Gippsland Power coach Nick Stevens and former Fremantle player Ryan Murphy will each play at least one game for Traralgon while Sale is in talks with former Saint Jason Gram.
Fresh from its second senior premiership in 26 years, Sale is confident it can go back-to-back, despite losing several players from last year.
“We think we have got the team to do it again. We are a new-look team, we are a lot younger, but we will be hard to beat,” premiership coach Matt Ferguson said. After two premierships at Sale City, Jacob Schuback will return to the club he once called home.
After winning a senior premiership at just 15, Josh Dunkley will return to the Sale line up and will be joined by another promising youngster in Nash Holmes.
“In my opinion they are two best juniors in Gippsland,” Ferguson said.
The side is spoilt for choice in the younger ranks, with 20 of the club’s juniors currently listed in the Gippsland Power system.
“We are really excited about our young kids and I am not scared to play them,” he said.
Hayden Burgiel will return to the helm at Maffra as a playing coach but an ongoing knee injury may hamper his on field role.
The Eagles will be bolstered by the signing of a new forward, Darren Sheen.
While the Eagles have only signed Lovett for its round two clash with Bairnsdale at this point, Burgiel said the club is in talks with the former Essendon player for the remainder of the season.
The inclusion of the two Pats, McGrath and Contin from Drouin, will bolster the line up at Leongatha.
Coach Will Thursfield said two new forwards in Aaron Hillberg and Cade Maskell will give the Parrots some more options up forward.
The former Richmond defender hopes the club will improve on last year’s effort, which saw the Parrots finish second, when it bowed out in the preliminary final.
The return of a former great has bolstered the ranks at Traralgon.
Four-time senior premiership player Paul McCulloch will head an experienced group at the helm of the Maroons with former teammates Tony Lane and Greg Morley also returning to help. Matthew Fitzgerald and Michael Burge are among several former Traralgon players to return.
“We’ve got some of these guys returning that we know that are good footballers but on top of that good youth coming through,” McCulloch said.
Jamie Aitkin’s 200th will be among a string of milestones celebrated at Traralgon in the early part of the year with Matt Jones, Burge and Kim Harrold all to play their 100th senior games before round six.
Having recruited Lockyer and Rocca, Morwell has become one of the most talked about clubs in the league. It started the star recruitment trend with Jason Akermanis for last year’s Queen’s Birthday clash with Traralgon. This year new coach Singh has gone one better luring Lockyer and Rocca for an extended playing stint.
The Tigers, who hope to improve on last year’s fifth finish, have also brought back locals Dean McDonald, Lachie Dowling and Julian Blackford and enlisted the services of former Yallourn/Yallourn North leading goal kicker Tim Phillips.
New coach Robert Railton brings plenty of experience back to Wonthaggi where he played his junior football.
Replacing Ben Soumilas, Robert Johns hopes he can lead Drouin back into the finals in 2013.
The Hawks finished seventh last year after consecutive grand final appearances in 2010/11.
Bairnsdale welcomes back two-time premiership coach Shaun Mooney.
Former Gippsland Power player Shane Jamieson will be among seven of the club’s under eighteen premiership players that are expected to line up for the Redlegs. Former VFL player Stephen Henshaw is among the bigger signings for 2013.
The former Wy Yung footballer returns home alongside Lakes Entrance ruckman Sam Nicholas from the Northern Territory Football League.
They’ll play alongside seven players from the club’s under 18 premiership team last year and a group of nine players recruited from the East Gippsland Football Netball League.
“I want us to be more competitive and consistent week in week out; I want us to be hard to play against,” Mooney said.
Ash Green will coach Warragul, a side he led for five years including a senior premiership in 2003, after a six year stint at Gippsland Power and wants to build on the team’s late momentum in 2012. This season looks like it will be another challenging year for last year’s wooden spooner, Moe. Jason MacFarlane will return to the position of coach at the Lions but doesn’t know in these early stages whether that will be in a playing or non-playing capacity.
“We want to continue working on things and challenge sides instead of being an easy beat,” MacFarlane said.