The Illawarra Stingrays have finals on their mind in 2020, but the side faces a stern test to kick off their campaign.
The Stingrays will host last year's Women's National Premier League One grand finalists Northern Tigers at JJ Kelly Park on Sunday.
New coach Bruce Tilt is aware that it's a tough round one assignment.
"They're a quality side. The Tigers did very well last year, they play a very nice brand of football and move the ball quickly around the park," Tilt said.
"But I think a little bit of an advantage we might have is we're on a grass surface at our home ground. We're looking forward to seeing what we can do on the grass surface, instead of the artificial surface.
"Some of the younger girls have good legs on the grass whereas other teams come down and aren't used to it, so we need to look to take advantage in the second half when we can tire them out and move them around."
Sunday's opener gets even tougher for the Rays, who will miss several key players due to W-League finals commitments. These include Western Sydney Wanderers young guns Chloe Middleton and Danika Matos.
In their absence, Tilt says experienced heads like former Sydney FC forward Michelle Carney become even more vital for Illawarra.
"It's important to not panic on the park. It's hard for young girls who get closed down very quickly these days and it becomes quite a battle out there," he said.
"Someone like Michelle chills them out... Michelle is just super with the girls, they look up to her as someone who is a great player and they can see qualities in her that they want too."
The Stingrays warmed up for their 2020 campaign with a convincing 4-0 win over fellow Women's NPL1 side NSW Koalas last Sunday.
The pre-season trial allowed Tilt to give some reserve grade and under-17s players a run, who could prove vital to the top side's success in 2020.
"We've been very happy with the young girls who have been stepping up. They're seeing opportunities to play first grade and they're taking that opportunity," he said.
"We've [also] built up our reserve grade squad, we have a good, strong reserve grade. We're now going to have a reserve grade that is very competitive - they haven't had that for a few years."
The Stingrays reached the semi-finals in last year's Women's NPL1 before being knocked out by Sydney Olympic. Finals are on the cards again in 2020.
"We're expecting to be up there," Tilt said.
"I think there's a great camaraderie through the club, with the reserve grade and our under-17s as well. They can see that winning is what it's all about - it's a results driven business.
"No-one is happier than someone that has a win."
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