Albion Park-Oak Flats Eagles are daring to dream of a Group Seven premiership victory this year to celebrate their 100th anniversary.
Their opponents on the opening weekend of the 2023 season, the Stingrays of Shellharbour are also dreaming of another fairy tale season, after making the semi-finals in 2022 for the first time in the club's history.
This fixture on Saturday at Centenary Field is one of many slated to be played on the day, with local derbies to also be contested between Gerringong Lions and Berry-Shoalhaven Heads Magpies at Michael Cronin Oval and Kiama Knights and Jamberoo Superoos at Kiama Showground.
Defending premiers Warilla-Lake South Gorillas kick off their campaign away to Shellharbour Sharks at Ron Costello Oval on Sunday, the same day as Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs host Nowra-Bomaderry Jets at Bill Andriske Mollymook Oval.
Eagles president Ken Booth said the youthful Albion Park squad were looking to do something special to celebrate the club's centenary year.
"We are excited about the year, we've got a few new signings and our numbers are strong," he said.
"We've probably got 68 registered players at the moment. We will end up with six grades, firsts, reserves, thirds, 18's and two ladies league tag sides this year.
"We have big numbers and we're just looking forward to being competitive in first grade.
"I mean you dream of winning a premiership but we'd really like to make semis because we haven't been there since 2012, the last time we won the premiership."
The Jason Hooper-coached Park have turned to local youth and former Eagles players to bolster their 2023 squad.
"Shannon Wakeman is here with us again and Buddy Braddock has come back this year. He was with us the year the competition got cancelled in 2020 and he was part of the premiership team in 2012 so we're excited to have him back. He always brings excitement and we seem to do well when Buddy is around," Booth said.
"We've got local juniors like Kane Ball from Cronulla, Jack Walsh and Dallas Harrison. All three are out of our under 18 team that won the comp undefeated in 2018.
"Cooper Tunbridge is also back so it's all about youth for us, which we are excited about.
"We're now just looking forward to playing the Stingrays on Saturday.
"They will be strong again. I don't think they've lost much from last year and everyone knows they had a dream run last year so it will be a test to see where we are at."
Albion Park will know early in the season where they're at with the Eagles to play reigning premiers Warilla next week followed by a round three clash against Jamberoo.
"We play three sides from the top five last year so we will know where we are at after three rounds," Booth said.
Like their opponents on Saturday, the Stingrays are also dreaming of another fairy tale run.
But the Shellharbour-based club will be without last-season's co-coaches, brothers Brad and Greg Reh.
Tommy Warner will step up as player-coach, a challenge the rookie coach was relishing.
"We've kept our core playing group on board so it has been a pretty easy transition into coaching so far. I've really enjoyed the pre-season. The boys have ripped in. I couldn't ask anymore of them so far," he said.
Hoping to at least match last year's semifinal run, the Stingrays have bolstered their squad with a number of key signings, including Kieran Moss from Group Six outfit Mittagong. Moss has also played more than 50 games for the Panthers in the NSW Cup.
They've also brought in forwards Tonga Tonga from Corrimal and Sioni Leufi from Albion Park.
"I think we've got plenty of depth this year and should handle the season pretty well," Warner said.
"I expect last year's big three of Warilla, Gerringong and Jamberoo to be up there again. I also think Ulladulla look good. I also like our chances.
"But in saying that it is going to be a very competitive year to be honest.
"After coming off last year to make the club's first semi-final appearance obviously makes the club and the fan base hungry for more.
"We finished just outside the top three last year so a big goal for us is to make that top three and give ourselves two bites of the cherry at the end of the year."
Warner though was firstly concerned with helping the Stingrays beat a "fired-up" Eagles outfit on Saturday.
"Albion Park will be tough. They have picked up a couple of signings including Kane Ball. He will be exciting for them and it is their 100th year so I think they will have plenty of energy this weekend," he said.
"They also always play better at home so we will have to be up for the challenge, which I'm sure we will be."
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