AFL North Coast welcomes a new era
AUSSIE RULES: The eagerly anticipated opening round of the AFL North Coast senior competition has arrived, with a landmark weekend in the code ready to unfold.
At Ellem Oval in Grafton, the maiden competitive women's match at the venue will be contested between the Northern Beaches/Grafton joint venture and the Coffs Coast Breakers.
Former Breakers players Rani Grant and Ashleigh Miller will feature for the competition's new side, adding an extra twist to the fixture.
Following this match the Northern Beaches Blues (formerly Woolgoolga Blues) return to action for the first time in 13 years in a reserve grade clash with the Breakers.
The main event at Ellem Oval sees the Grafton Tigers take on the Coffs Harbour Breakers in seniors.
For the Breakers, David Velt marks his return to coaching on the North Coast after a successful stint in Melbourne. He inherits a stable group that will be keen to make amends on last year's grand final performance.
At Richardson Oval in Sawtell, all four premiers from 2018 will have their first hit-out of the year.
In seniors, the Sawtell Toormina Saints host the Port Macquarie Magpies in what's shaping as a close contest.
The Saints are out to extend on their record 10 flags in 2019, though it will be easier said than done after losing two time league best and fairest Luke Matthews as well as Danniel Johnson.
Coach Brandt Lee said the club had lots of promising juniors coming up through the ranks and was looking to them to fill the boots of club legends.
"We've got a big focus on youth development this year,” Lee said.
"There's a lot of fresh faces and there'll be a few debutants this weekend so the boys are excited. We've been training since the first week of January so they're ready to go.”
One of those debutants will be new recruit Will Christopher, who has come up from Mansfield in Victoria and is aiming to replicate what his brother achieved in a Saints jersey.
"His brother Lachie won a comp with us in 2017 and Will was in the crowd that day we won the grand final. Since then he has wanted to come up and do the same,” Lee said.
The Saints coach expects an improved Magpies side to provide stiff competition in 2019.
"They've picked up some handy players so they'll definitely be one of the teams to beat this year.”
The Saints v Magpies game begins at 2.50pm tomorrow.