Bacchus Marsh may be the reigning premier, but the Ballarat Football League’s top side isn’t taking the foot off the pedal.

While coach Travis Hodgson was happy to give the players a longer break after the club’s first senior premiership since the 1970s, the playing group had other ideas.

“I gave them the choice to come back to pre-season later, having gone deeper in the season than the year before when we didn’t make finals,” Hodgson said.

“But they were keen to start at the same date as last year.”

Hodgson said the group had gone from strength to strength on the track, while performances in the three pre-season games were better than they were a year ago.

Pleasingly for the Cobras, only three of their premiership players are not returning. The club knew early that former coach Cameron Richardson and former AFL player Damian Cupido weren’t coming back, while Coby Miller has relocated to Melbourne.

Coming in are former VFL player Scott Sherlock and Dean Heta from the Ovens and Murray Football League, while former Cobras’ junior Ryley Stuhldreier returns.

Hodgson said they would have a stronger side than in the past season.

“The changes are minimal, with three decent outs and three decent ins.

“There’s still a lot of guys in the 20-23 bracket who are still improving.”

Hodgson admits the loss of Richardson and Cupido will impact on the game style.

“That’s about 95 goals from those two you lose,” he said. “Jarrah Maksymow will be a better player than last season, though.

“He came in to the club at round five off the back of no preparation. He’ll get more ball directed through him.

“Hamish Coulton, Alec Del Papa and a couple of others all kicked between 20 and 30 goals each last season. We’ll hopefully get a few more goals from them,” he said.

“Dean [Heta] can play either end as well. We’ll have a spread of goalkickers.”

Hodgson said while several of the younger players had stepped up over the pre-season, Hamish Coulton had been the standout.

“There’s the natural development, and he’s put the hard work in during the season.

“We expect him to be better again this season.”

The Cobras start their season against Darley on Sunday. Hodgson knows it’ll be a challenge for a side that’s not used to being the hunted.

At this stage, they are looking to field a near full-strength side.

“We couldn’t have handled the situation better so far … until they are out there, it’s an unknown,” he said.

“Half a dozen games last season, teams didn’t expect much from us. Now, we are how we saw Lake Wendouree last season – we’re the yardstick.”

The positives aren’t just flowing for the senior football side, with Cobras’ president Adam Sutherland saying the club was thriving across the board. He said they aren’t satisfied with just one premiership win, and are aiming for under-18.5s, reserves and seniors to make finals.

“The players are setting the agenda,” he said.

As well as three new recruits, four former Cobras – Brenton Payne, Dillon Vojo-Rainbow, Jacob Wheelahan and Daniel Foley – who are playing VFL, have chosen to align with Cobras.

“It’s fantastic to see these guys, who are at a higher level, want to be a part of it,” he said. “If or when they come and play, they know they’re coming into a good environment.”

The club is one of four clubs to field a third open-age side in an AFL Goldfields competition. They are still looking for more players for that team. Sutherland said the women’s side has had an influx of new players, while netball sides look like attracting more talent also.