ROCHESTER’S senior football side enters a new era on Saturday with a changing of the guard for its opening match of the 2018 Goulburn Valley League season.
The departure of long-serving stalwarts Elliot Bowen, Heath Aitken and Sam Brennan means the loss of a wealth of experience from Moon Oval.
Also missing this season is the class of Jarod Bacon and Mitch Bright and the goalscoring prowess of power forward Steven Stroobants who have moved on to other leagues.
The exodus of such talent may be a cause of concern for most clubs but Rochester coach James Flaherty is backing a blend of youth and recruits to make an impact this season.
‘‘Rochy is a very proud club and it has a good history of playing finals in the last 25 years and that’s expected within this group,’’ Flaherty said.
‘‘We’ve had a couple of practice matches so it was good to get some game time under the belt.
‘‘The group’s a bit younger this year and the energy has been positive.’’
Rochester’s most recent practice match was on Good Friday against reigning Bendigo Football League premier Strathfieldsaye.
‘‘They rolled us by about four or five goals,’’ Flaherty said.
‘‘They’re a quality side and it was a decent hit out for us.
‘‘We had a couple away and we lost a few early. We have to wait and see how those two or three guys pull up (to play on Saturday) but we expect they will.’’
Rochester will unveil a virtually new look team to what fans have been used to in recent years when the side runs out against Shepparton Bears at Deakin Reserve this Saturday.
‘‘We’ve got five or six new faces in the side and four or five under 18 players from last year coming up to the seniors,’’ Flaherty said.
‘‘So with the guys from the thirds and the new faces we hope it will give us a really competitive side.’’
Among the new faces at Moon Oval are Doug Wren from Tallygaroopna, Leitchville-Gunbower’s Jackson McEwen and Rhys Free who has VFL experience with Coburg.
Rochester is expected to be close to full strength when it meets the Bears on Saturday and will have to be switched on from the start against last season’s runners-up.
The Bears opened their 2018 account with a solid 54-point win against Shepparton United on Good Friday.
However, Flaherty is undaunted about the big test facing the Tigers in the opening round. In fact, he is keen to embrace it.
‘‘Obviously they played United and had a good win,’’ he said of the Bears.
‘‘We’re aware of their capabilities and they have a lot of quality players.
‘‘It’s a tough start (for us) but the only way is to get in and get on with it.’’
Rochester finished fifth last year and won the elimination final against Euroa before bowing out to the Shepparton Bears by 46 points in the first semi-final.
Despite the big turnover in personnel in the off-season, Flaherty is entering 2018 in a positive frame of mind.
‘‘We’re confident in this current group of players,’’ he said.
‘‘We still have quality players and a lot of youth which will change the way we play, hopefully for the better.’’
■ IN NETBALL, Rochester’s A grade side will be led by Linda Rasmussen.
The Tigerettes finished in 10th place last year but will be looking to push into finals contention in 2018 with the bulk of the 2017 playing group remaining at the club.
Saturday’s opponent — Shepparton Bears — made it to the preliminary final in 2017 with a cruel run of injuries derailing the team’s push into the grand final.
The side that beat the Bears was Shepparton United who eventually lost the grand final to the Kyabram powerhouse.
The Bears took revenge on United in the Good Friday season opener with a 53-43 victory which means Rochester will have a stern test to begin season 2018.