The return of the Newtown Lions to the Toowoomba Rugby League A Grade competition has brought much excitement to the start of the 2021 season.
Many Bluebags old boys and fans set to dust off their old jerseys and travel down to Gatton to watch their opening round clash against the Hawks to see the club back in action after almost a decade without representation in the historic Darling Downs competition.
It has been more than 580 days since the final whistle sounded on competitive rugby league in Toowoomba, so while the re-entry of the Lions to the competition may be the most notable gain this season, that hasn't been the only development to occur in the past 12 months.
There has also been a flurry of player movement happening ahead of the first round which kicks off this weekend with plenty of talented players signing up with new clubs.
Below are the gains, losses and key players for each team:
Coach: David Anderson
Co-captains: Mitch Revell and Sam Betros
Gains: Nathan Gaulton (Wattles), Austin Jennings (Sunshine Coast Falcons), Garrard Brewer (Chinchilla), Isaac Lappin, Anton Roma (Valleys), Bryce Whale (Texas), Brok Whale (Texas), Flynn Kaiser (Redcliffe), Harley Gilland, Dan English (Nanango), Lachlan Swan (Stanthorpe), Zac Alberts (Nambour), Warren Draper (Charleville), Jaren Bender (Souths), Dan Biscoe (Burleigh Bears)
Losses: Nick Trevisol (work commitments), Rob Taylor, Tom Taylor (rugby union / work commitments), Adam Berthelsen (rugby union), Wally Pegler, Rhys Fowler (Newtown)
Key players: Mitch Revell, Sam Betros, Nathan Gaulton, Austin Jennings, Bryce Whale, Nick Nairn, Brad Brown
Austin Jennings can score from anywhere and Sam Betros and Mitch Revell are quality players. Nathan Gaulton is arguably one of the best acquisitions in the TRL this year and will lift the other three who, on their day, can make a difference.
Co-coaches: Kerry Carmichael and Steve Franciscus
Captain: Xavier Manley
Key players: Steve Franciscus, Dylan Taylor, Xavier Manley, Danny Wassell, Chris Wilkes, Alex Ambia
These players have been key for the Diehards for a number of years. On any given day, each of these guys can turn a match.
Coach: Nicki-John Harch
Captain: Haydan Lipp
Gains: Dylan Martin, Blake Olive, Luke Self (Norths Ipswich), Tupu Lasati, Sione Foueti (West End), David Lopu (Goodna), Fine Faingaa, Caleb Powell (Brothers), Gus Mati (Valleys), Daniel Jennings (Wattles), Ben Reuter (Innisfail Leprechauns), Jackson Morgan (Easts Tigers)
Losses: Brendon Clarke, Oli Bichel (Western Mustangs)
Key players: Ben Reuter, Haydan Lipp, Dylan Martin, Shannon Hicks
Ben Reuter returns to his home club where he last played in their 2013 premiership winning year. He certainly is the extra experience the Hawks have needed over the past few seasons. Reuter played for Innisfail Leprechauns when they won the Cairns District premiership a couple of years ago and was the player of that grand final.
Haydan Lipp will be excited about Gatton's prospects this season. He is such a gifted player and 2021 may just be his year.
Dylan Martin is close to the buy of the off-season, he does a thousand tackles a game and his game management is excellent. With his work rate, Martin will challenge Ben Sullivan as the premier hooker in the competition.
Shannon Hicks has matured as a player and scores meat pies at the right time of contests. Hicks leads by example and is difficult to tackle; not to mention, opposition players know they have been hit when he gets them under their ribs.
Coach: Travis Waddell
Captain: David McGrady
Gains: Travis Waddell (Wellington Cowboys) David Armstrong (Newcastle Knights), Geoffrey Prince (Ipswich), Garry Prince (Newcastle), Aaron McGrady (Lakes United)
Losses: Mark Offerdahl (United States), Josh Keoller (Highfields) Stevie-Ray Haenga-Albert (Sunshine Coast Falcons) Callum Skinner (rugby union), Damon McIntosh (Brisbane) Brenton Clement, Conor Clement (Western Mustangs)
Key players: Travis Waddell, David McGrady
Former Canberra and Newcastle rake Travis Waddell joins Goondiwindi as a player / coach and will add plenty of experience in the middle of the park for the Boars.
Coach: Gus McKellar
Captain: Campbell Stewart
Gains: Corey McGrady (Valleys), Pat Templeman (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Josh Keoller (Goondiwindi), Matt Prowse
Key players: Corey McGrady, Pat Templeman, Jarrod Lee, Darcy Maroske
On top of Corey McGrady, Pat Templeman is a huge pick up. Templeman has played more than 80 games for Wynnum Manly in the Intrust Super Cup. He will be great support for McGrady and Jarrod Lee.
Darcy Maroske is another who has Intrust Super Cup experience and will influence the Eagles pack who, by their own admission, underperformed in 2019.
Coach: Colin Speed
Captain: Luke Hellyer
Gains: Kalemb Hart (Valleys), Elvis Jensen (rugby union), Martin Baldo (rugby union and former referee), Denzel Briscoe (Coffs Harbour), Michael Cochrane (Brothers)
Key players: Luke Hellyer, Robbie Clevin, Josh Duncan, Elvis Jensen, Kalemb Hart
Watching Josh Duncan in a full season in the top grade is well overdue. He will be a key player the opposition will be keeping an eye on. Kalemb Hart brings a winning culture to the club and has been impressive in the trials.
Elvis Jensen, Robbie Clevin and captain Luke Hellyer are the engine room and their experience will be invaluable.
Coach: Jason Ferris
Captain: Nick Ferris
Gains: Nick Ferris (Cromer), Dylan Adamson (Souths), Noel Bartman, Josh Halter (year off), Richie Fernando (Souths)
Losses: Brendan Hall (Souths), Jordan Smith (Bulimba), Conner Boney, Jake Edwards (Newtown)
Key players: Nick Ferris, Dylan Adamson, Steve Rodgers, Josh Stanton, Damon Anderson, Joe Eising
Toowoomba awaits Nick Ferris’ entry. Something says he will please TRL supporters.
Damon Anderson is ready to really make his mark this season and is bulked up to do some damage.
The rest of the half dozen listed above will make up the core of an exiting 2021 season.
Captain / coach: Daniel York
Gains: Blake Cullen (Western Mustangs), Rian Cherry, Harry Cooke (Wattles), Michael Bermingham (rugby union), Cameron Miller (year off)
Key players: Tom O’Sullivan, Alex Kahler, Daniel York, Blake Cullen
The return of Blake Cullen is wonderful for the side. Pittsworth will be counting on his talent to help the Danes lift the silverware again.
Tom O’Sullivan virtually carried an injury-depleted side in 2019 and it will be interesting to watch him perform with all these returning, fit, players.
Daniel York and Alex Kahler are seasoned professionals and are the glue that holds the side together when needed. If Pittsworth are behind in a game, York and Kahler are the first to stand up and turn the game around.
Coach: Liam Capewell
Gains: Jock Waters (Valleys), Blake Lollback (Wattles) Tyrell McCullagh (Gatton), Brendan Hall (Oakey), Zac Loxley (Highfields)
Losses: Jordan Crocker, Riley Wilson, Luke Maiden, Kyle Petersen, Alex Dunemann, Les Hartvigsen, Mitch Murphy (Western Mustangs)
Key players: Mitch Tuite, Jacob Whittaker, Angus Hearn
Mitch Tuite, Jacob Whittaker and Angus Hearn's combination is a key.
Whittaker - when he is on his game - is one of the best props in the competition, especially his offloads when he is going forward.
Tuite needs right hand men to help him weave his magic and Angus Hearn does a wonderful job keeping the opposition guessing.
Coach: Matthew Schulze
Captain: Dylan Chown
Gains: Brock Diment (Norths Devils), John Maila (Goodna), Cassius Elisaia (rugby union), Blake Mara (Dalby), James Tutuila (Normanby), Coedy Tandy (Warwick)
Losses: Gerome Burns, Denzel Burns (Cessnock), Corey McGrady (Highfields), Joe Mua, Ryan Stevens (Wattles), Jock Waters (Souths), Kalemb Hart (Newtown), Gus Mati (Gatton), Mitch Sargent, Nick Sargent, Luke Starr (work commitments), Nathan Short, Dexter Buchanan (retired), Zac Miles
Key players: Dylan Chown, Blake Mara, Brock Diment, Dwayne Duncan, Ben Cook, Drew Jackson
Dylan Chown, Blake Mara, Brock Diment, Dwayne Duncan, Ben Cook and Drew Jackson will keep Valleys at the top of their game all season. Throw in John Maila and it will be an impressive line up.
Coach: Matt Grew
Captain: Mick Bloomfield
Gains: Mitch Wilson (Redcliffe), Dylan Galloway (year off)
Losses: Coedy Tandy (Valleys)
Key players: Ben Sullivan, Mick Bloomfield, Mitch Watson, Mitch Wilson
Imagine the Cowboys without Ben Sullivan and Mick Bloomfield. These two are the fiercest of competitors on the field and sometimes, it gets them into trouble. If anyone deserves that long elusive premiership, it’s these wonderful players.
Mitch Watson is a special player. As seen in the Barrett Shield, he can create something from nothing and 2021 beckons for him.
Mitch Wilson is just what the Cowboys needed. His kicking game and his game management will be invaluable.
Coach: Travis Burns
Co-captains: Ryan Duggan and Dale Perkins
Gains: Jackson Green (Roma), Ryan Stevens (Valleys), Andy Richardson (Wynnum), Sam Momoemausu (rugby union)
Losses: Daniel Jennings (Gatton), Nick Van Der Poel (Burleigh Bears), Jake Hargraves (retired), Nathan Gaulton (Brothers), Blake Lollback (Souths)
Key players: Matt Duggan, Jackson Green, Travis Burns, Ryan Stevens
The forward pack for the Warriors is unquestioned.
The spine of Travis Burns and Matt Duggan know their stuff and their combination is lethal. But now with Jackson Green and Ryan Stevens, the opposition will just need to guess a bit more on what’s happening in their next set of six.
It's a nice ingredient to add to this season and may be the point of difference from the last couple of seasons.