TOUTED as better than those used in the AFL, Maffra’s new state of the art lights will be switched on for the first time when the Eagles host Moe on Saturday night.
Six years in the making and valued at a quarter of a million dollars, the 200 lux lighting system replicates daylight conditions.
The system is a far cry from the previous lighting, which at 40 years old fell well short of Australian standards.
Saturday night’s clash between Maffra and Moe under lights will highlight the opening round of the Gippsland League.
With a long list of new recruits, the revitalised Moe will be out to impress under the leadership of Eagles stalwart turned Moe coach Adrian Burgiel.
However, Maffra will be celebrating a coup of its own, having lured three-time premiership coach Wayne Butcher back to the helm to cover the loss of the other Burgiel, Hayden.
“It’s been a while, I’ve come back just to really help out the club again,” Butcher said.
While Burgiel will not take to the field as he recovers from knee surgery, Butcher is hoping to kick off his tenure with a win against his good friend-cum-rival.
“I’d love to get a win against Burgs,” he said.
“I’d hate to lose against him; it would be great to start the year off with a win at home.”
Returning to the senior coaching role after nine years, Butcher brings with him not only premiership experience but plenty of support both on and off the field.
And the veteran will need the club to fire on all fronts to replicate its success over the past decade.
“It’s too early to say (how we will go). We will have a pretty young side with the Burgiels gone,” Butcher said.
“We’d like to make the finals and we will see after that,” he said.
Former St Kilda player Jason Gram is expected to line up for Sale in its season opener against Traralgon.
“We are his home club, he runs and carries the footy, he is a long kick and he has plenty of experience,” Sale coach Matt Ferguson said.
Ferguson is hopeful 29 year-old Gram will play a key role throughout the year.
“He has some commitments around the country in the first half of the year but we hope to have him for 10 games and finals,” Ferguson said.
Returning to the helm for a third year, Ferguson is looking forward to putting last year’s grand final loss behind him.
“It’s a bit surreal how it finished off but the boys have trained really hard and we are looking forward to getting back out there,” he said.
However Ferguson said fans can expect an unsettled Sale outfit, with a number of players juggling VFL and TAC Cup commitments.
“We seem to have all the players there but it will be hit and miss when it comes to availability,” he said.
In a huge coup for the Gippsland League, Sale players Luke Collins (Richmond) and Ryan Pendlebury (Collingwood) will play in the VFL, as will the Magpies’ newest recruit Tom Hams (Bendigo Gold).
Sale also has seven players in the Gippsland Power system.
With eight Power recruits on its list Traralgon is in a similar boat, while Jordan Symons and Matt Northe are among a string of Maroons with VFL commitments.
Traralgon has been without its home ground for the pre-season however it has lucked out on the recruiting front, luring Michael Stockdale back from Williamstown and former premiership player Tim Johnston and Jordan Bourke from Cowwarr.
Returning to the head coach role Paul McCulloch is not playing down this weekend’s match against last year’s runner up.
“You couldn’t ask for a bigger challenge first up, especially after their loss in the grand final,” he said.
Traralgon is not expected to play on its upgraded home surface until after Easter, but one club relieved to be back on home turf after the region’s smoke crisis is Morwell.
The Tigers will use this weekend’s clash against Wonthaggi to unfurl its first premiership flag in 17 years.
The premier has lost forward Lachlan Dowling and interleague backman Jack Brown but the reigning premier has recruited its fair share of players in Thys Stanistreet (Yinnar), Lachlan Little (Glengarry) and Simon Noy (Hill End), while former Collingwood star Tarkyn Lockyer will return for a second year.
Wonthaggi too has had its share of losses, none bigger than Lucas White.
Shaun Mooney has returned to the top job at Bairnsdale which will take on Leongatha this weekend.
The Redlegs will be hoping for a repeat of round 10 last year, which saw it upset the Parrots on their home turf.
However the odds are against the visitor, which has won at Leongatha just six times in 35 outings.
The final match of round one will see Drouin host Warragul in the first west Gippsland derby of 2014.