Launceston will be out to defend its breakthrough premiership when the 2021 TSL season gets under way on April 2.
In the first of several previews, The Examiner looks at the Blues' prospects for this year's full-length campaign.
LAST SEASON: Premier (Played 14, won 11, lost 3).
INS: Josh Woolley (Palm Beach), James Dowling (South Fremantle), Cody Thorp (Maroochydore), Jonty McIvor (Wynyard), Brayden Pitcher (Tyabb), Ronan Filgate (St Pats)
OUTS: Isaac Chugg (Collingwood), Jared Dakin (Sturt), Tim Jones (Montrose), Tim Auckland (Victoria), Tim Bristow (retired)
COACH: Mitch Thorp
CAPTAINS: Jobi Harper, Jake Hinds (first eight games), Joe Groenewegen (vice-captain)
FIRST GAME: North Launceston at UTAS Stadium, Friday, April 2, 6.30pm.
Launceston has performed well in the off-season.
Losing talented young quartet Isaac Chugg, Jared Dakin, Tim Jones and Tim Auckland to the mainland, the Blues have brought in elite replacements in the returning Josh Woolley, North-West star James Dowling and ruck-forward Cody Thorp.
Brayden Pitcher will also likely slot into the 22 after five years away, but coach Mitch Thorp believes an off-field recruit could have the biggest impact of all.
"[Development coach] Craig Notman's just been a wonderful addition - I don't think people outside the footy club realise the runs he has on the board within the AFL," Thorp said.
"He's been a general manager at the Melbourne footy club for a number of years, he's been a player manager, he worked at the AFL.
"We're very lucky to have him on board and he's already provided great support to our aspirational young players."
Season 2020 belonged to Jobi Harper.
The Blues skipper won virtually every medal available to him in a show-stopping season, but will be unavailable in Launceston's first eight games as he completes a firefighting certificate.
Thorp conceded replacing the 27-year-old would be difficult, but backed promising stand-in skipper Jake Hinds, a classy veteran and a crop of young talent to fill the midfield void.
"We're really fortunate to have [Joe] Groenewegen, [Jay] Blackberry, [Dylan] Riley, [Michael] Musicka and Woolley all in their late 20s that will give Jake some great support," Thorp said.
"I think naturally Blackberry will play a lot more on-ball with Jobi missing the first part and that's not the end of the world.
MORE FOOTBALL: Launceston 2020 season review
"Jay's a very accomplished mid - I was fortunate enough to coach him in another era as a permanent mid.
"We sort of unlocked by the end of last year that we don't need to rely on any one player to carry us.
"We saw over the back end of the season a really nice contribution from everyone and that now gives the guys a really clear understanding that we're stronger together and our system works.
"There's a nice calm attitude leading into the year that no-one has to put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves to be the difference in a game."
The Blues have a host of talent looking to break into the senior side.
The four emergencies from last season's grand final - Jack Donnellan, Grant Holt, Zach Morris and Bowen Pearce - will all be hungry to become senior regulars, while a number of Devils are hoping to step up.
Returnee Jake Rice, Devil Jonty McIvor, Michael Larby, Tyson Miller and teens Liam Canny and Arie Schoenmaker are others hoping for senior action throughout the season.
"Grant Holt was really unfortunate to miss out - he's arguably been one of our best over the summer and really desperate to prove to himself that he is a finals senior team player," Thorp said.
"Then there's the Sam Foleys and Jayden Hinds of the world that are in the Devils program - we get them round one and then from round three to round seven, so some of those boys are really keen to put their best foot forward."
Auckland's departure could help ease the logjam of gun rucks, with Rodney Eade Medallist Hamish Leedham and vice-captain Groenewegen both putting in good pre-seasons.
"Joey Groenewegen has arguably had the best pre-season of anyone - he only played three games last year but he's lost 15 kilos and he just looks like a pure athlete, so of all our players to watch out for next season he's the one that's really sharpened up," Thorp said.
"We're lucky that our growth will come from our 20, 21, 22-year-olds that are still establishing themselves as senior players - they're very good young senior players, but they've still got a lot of upside in their games."
The hunters last season, Launceston will have to get used to being the hunted.
Perennial grand finalist North Launceston has lost a handful of its frontline warriors but will not be discounted by Thorp, who believes another Southern club has entered a premiership window.
"We feel like North Launny are going to be extremely hard to beat as always," the 32-year-old said.
"Clarence are going to be the real movers I think - the recruitment of Colin Garland, Baxter Norton from North Hobart, Jake Steele from North Hobart and Mitch Rainbird from Glenorchy ... they've really put all their chips in the middle and I think they're going to be really difficult to knock over, particularly at Bellerive.
"Back to full-length quarters and over an 18-game season you need to be able to weather the storm when injuries hit or poor form hits and we feel like we've got enough depth in our list to adjust when we need to and that's going to be really important.
"We're under no illusions because we won the grand final and the development league and under-18s last season ... it's going to be a tough year."
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