The CRRL has released its Canberra Raiders Cup first grade draw for the 2020 season, and the Goulburn Bulldogs are set to face a new-look Belconnen United Sharks outfit in the first round.
Scheduled to get underway on Sunday, April 19, the Bulldogs and Sharks will clash at the Goulburn Workers Arena from 3pm.
The Sharks showed glimpses of form in 2019, but their finals drought continued as they were unable to win key matches throughout the year.
2020 might be different, as Belconnen confirmed last November the signing of freshly-retired Canberra Raiders forward Shaun Fensom.
Fensom, alongside another former Raider in Glenn Buttriss (who confirmed he will remain with the Sharks in 2020), headline the big names in the Belconnen lineup this year.
Other new additions to the squad are Nukurua Ngere (Queanbeyan Kangaroos), Sam Bramich (Gungahlin Bulls) and Seth Going (Royals Rugby).
Though punters are still likely to put their money on the Bulldogs for this round one fixture, the Sharks' lineup is looking more dangerous than it has in previous seasons.
But the calibre of Goulburn's attack should not be dismissed. Despite losing hooker James Aubusson and forward Mick Dodson to retirement, coach Adam Kyle maintains they have the strongest spine in the tournament.
With the three Cornish brothers - Tyler, Mitchell, and Nick at fullback, halfback, and five-eighth respectively - Kyle's argument is certainly hard to refute.
And though the Bulldogs are in the midst of sorting out the placement of some fresh faces in the squad, they have retained the majority of their players from a dominant 2019 campaign and look remarkably well-balanced across the board.
The only questions marks which remain concern Aubusson's replacement at hooker and Dodson's in the forwards.
Of the two, Dodson is likely to be the more straightforward to replace as the Bulldogs currently boast plenty of size - with the likes of Izzy Tittor, Connor Brebner, and Mitchell Atkinson all capable of playing similar roles.
Meanwhile, Aubusson's blend of sheer physicality and deft ball handling and organisational skills leave a significant gap for Goulburn. But Kyle was confident when asked during an early pre-season training session that there were several worthwhile contenders to take over his spot.
Both sides will feature plenty of new faces on April 19, and while the Bulldogs will enjoy the home-ground advantage, victory is far from assured.
The other fixtures in round one include the Yass Magpies vs the West Belconnen Warriors in Yass, the Queanbeyan Blues vs the Queanbeyan Roos at Seiffert Oval, and the Tuggeranong Bushrangers vs the Gungahlin Bulls at Greenway Oval. These matches will take place on Saturday, April 18 from 3pm.
Goulburn's pre-season will kick into gear this Friday, when the Bulldogs travel to West Wyalong in an attempt to defend their West Wyalong Knockout title.
While you're with us...
Did you know the Goulburn Post is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.