WDFNL race begins Sunday

THE race for the Warrnambool and District senior football premiership will start on Sunday and the season is likely to be the closest in years.

The same five sides which played finals in 2013 have legitimate claims to the flag while the challenge is for those outside the top five to close the gap.

Indeed, there has been a sense of "same old, same old" to the pre-season, particularly with Dennington, Merrivale and Allansford strengthening their lists.

But for all the familiarity, the unknown is who will emerge as the game-breaking forward who can win games off his own back.

Of the top 10 goalkickers from 2013, only Dennington's Chris Keilar, Merrivale's James Fary and Nirranda's Rick Spokes are still playing in the WDFNL.

Panmure has lost league leader Chris Bant and Jye Bidmade as well as Gary Robinson, who was quieter last season but kicked a century of goals in 2012.

Kolora-Noorat will be without its explosive duo in Sam Moloney and Mark Clissold - two of the best I've seen ply their trade in the league.

South Rovers will likewise have weakened forward stocks following the departures of Scott Nicolson and Andy Rylance.

Those seven players kicked a collective 402 goals last season - an average of 57 each.

So who will emerge as the next gun forward? The candidates are undoubtedly there, although whether they deliver on the hype remains to be seen.

For mine, Allansford recruit Justin Nowell starts favourite to win the league goalkicking despite his two-year absence from the football field.

Nowell kicked 156 goals in 2009-10 and will provide the Cats with a permanent target inside the forward 50 - something they sorely lacked last season.

Others to watch include Merrivale recruit Jet Dowie, although James Fary is staking his claim to be the main target at the Tigers.

Daniel Roache and recruit Tom White are the key targets at Panmure and both are certain to have enough ball coming their way.

The shift of Darcy Lewis into defence at Dennington will mean Keilar will spend more time up forward.

And second-year Kolora-Noorat player Michael Sleeman could do likewise in the absence of Moloney and Clissold.

So the big question is will the WDFNL's real goalkickers please stand up?

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