WHO WILL BE THE FRONTRUNNERS THIS SEASON? With just one sleep left, fans and players will be chomping at the bit to get back on the field for season 2023. So with zero games played who takes the favourite status? Despite losing the decider last year, Brigades are the ones to beat, according to opposition coaches. The Hawks have much same group that has been at the top in recent times with smart additions of the Perham brothers joining the like of Schofields, Ryders and Patticks as a dominant family package for the club. Rovers have lost and gained some big names and might need time to gel while most seem to think Northampton are primed for something special. So is there any room for the three that didn’t make it last year? Towns and Mullewa still need time, so Royals seem to be the only chance to break into the top four. They’ve tinkered with their line-up without bringing in huge names, the exception being former Collingwood star Dane Swan for one game notwithstanding, and showed they had enough to beat the top teams last season. They will need to hit the ground running unlike last season and make sure they aren’t playing catch-up if they are to be a chance. WOMEN GIVEN NEW TIME TO SHINEA minor scheduling change this season will see women’s games played before the men’s, leaving league matches as the final ones on the day. This is a smart move with more eyeballs on the GNWFL in what is becoming one of the strongest women’s competitions in WA. The pathways towards representative football is becoming more concrete even with the loss of the WAFLW reserves and more people watching will only help build the profile of these players. LET THE FOOTY TALK Last season saw some terrific on-field highlights - from Dale Williamson breaking the all-time goal-kicking record, to Mullewa breaking its three-year winless drought, Kristerfer Ryder’s mark of the year and some thrilling matches culminating in a successful grand final day, with all seven teams competing for a cup. It’s a reminder that the GNFL is still one of the best leagues around, so with the review of the league now complete and findings delivered let’s hope the footy is what will dominate the headlines this year. Too many on and off-field violent incidents took the spotlight away from what was a terrific football product. Hopefully the review, along with a drive to put country week at the forefront and restore pride in players for the league and not just their own clubs, we can enjoy what is shaping up to be a great season of football. SCHOFIELD’S RETURN Speaking of letting the footy talk. Come week one Jayden Schofield’s ban will be lifted and he will be back on the field for the first time since round 10 in June last year. It was no doubt a tough time spent off the field with a lengthy dispute over his ban and he was forced to watch the Hawks fall just short in the grand final last year. However, he is still one of the most damaging players in the competition and at 30 years of age still has years of prime football left in him. The opening few weeks will be key to seeing how he handled his time away from football as it could be a slow burn back into the spotlight or an explosive start to make sure his elite footballing skills are what grabs attention this year. STAND YOUR GROUND While it has been part of the AFL for a couple of years now, the GNFL will be implementing the “stand rule” to bring it into line with other leagues in WA. Much like the AFL, the man on the mark must now stand and cannot move in any direction until play-on is called. However, the man with the ball can no longer fake a pass and it will be considered play-on with coaches around the league trying to get players across the change. However, expect plenty of penalties in the first few weeks as players and fans get used to the changes. SHORTER SEASON LEAVES NOWHERE TO HIDE Regardless of what people think of the shorter season, it is going to turn up the heat in the opening weeks. Last season saw the top four teams in a league of their own with Chapman Valley, Mullewa and Towns well off the pace and effectively out of finals running by the mid-season bye. Royals did mount a late charge through the backend of the season after players returned from injury and illness but with just 12 games on offer this year there will be nowhere to hide. If teams start like they did last year they can forget about finals and the top four could already be set in stone come the end of July. WHAT ABOUT JK? Josh Kennedy will play at some point this season, the only question is when. It is highly unlikely to be in the opening weeks and it is likely to be only one game. However, expect a sell-out when he does put on the green and gold again, and with Harry Taylor committed to a more permanent playing role this year, along with local legend Nathaniel Mourambine, it would be one of the most powerful forward lines ever assembled, assuming they can all squeeze in. There is also the question of Mark LeCras and if he can be lured up from Cervantes, such is the love he and Kennedy share. With the WAFL likely to be in town in July that could be the perfect moment to stage a footy extravaganza.