The Maitland Pickers will give recruits Sam Anderson, Matt Allwood, Frazer Price and Peter Cronin a Coalfields derby baptism of fire in Saturday's opening round game against Cessnock at Cessnock Sportsground
The game also marks the return of premiership player Marco Delapena and injured Country representative hooker Jarrod Smith to Pickers colours.
Dalepena is back after several years and Smith is making his return back from ACL injury and taking the No.9 jersey back from last year's Maitland and Newcastle RL best and fairest Adam Clydsdale.
Forward Cronin knows all about Coalfields clashes, but this will be the first time in Maitland colours after moving from Kurri Kurri where he terrorised both the Pickers and Goannas packs with his aggression and steely defence.
Anderson, a Maitland junior, will lead Maitland's forwards taking on the mantle from former Knight and Raider Dane Tilse.
"I've been very impressed with how Sam and Pete have trained and the enthusiasm and professionalism they have brought to the team," Pickers coach Luke Dorn said.
"Pete is physical and a great leader, he has been excellent for us. He has good relationships with a lot of the guys and I think they will be happy to be lining up with him instead of against him.
"Eveyone will be impressed with Sam, again he is a great person, a good leader and someone the boys have a lot of respect for.
"He will lead them from the front, he will be good for us."
The Pickers young Bulls from 2018 Jayden Butterfield and Lincoln Smith find themselves on opposite teams, with Smith transferring to the Goannas in the off-season.
Smith will be one of several new faces in the Cessnock team joining former Pickers skipper Steve Waetford, Hayden Loughrey and Tevita Alifa from the Knights NSW Cup), Isaiah Cooper-Tetevano from Wyong, Josh Charles from Lakes, Seaton Reid from the Noosa Pirates on the Sunshine Coast, Tevita Cottrell who didn't play in 2018 and exciting young dummy-half Nick Lawrence who is back from an ACL-injury.
Paul Carter had his first run in last week's trial win against Central Newcastle.
Carter and Lawrence are likely to form a dangerous partnership in the middle of the field.
"After a long summer I think everyone is chomping at the bit to get a game under their belt," Dorn said.
"We'll nail the team down on Thursday to make sure we have the right fit, but it's looking strong."
Dorn expects a fired up Cessnock under new coach Todd Edwards, but Dorn was confident the Pickers had the game and adaptability on field to meet any challenges thrown at them.
"We've got a strong belief in what we do and if we get that right, it doesn't really matter what the opposition throws at us," he said.
"Defence is the key element in our game plan. The guys we have recruited are very defence orientated which helps in the way we want to play.
"If we've got those guys in and tighten up our defence and be very good at it and very detailed and disciplined with it then offensively we will have plenty of opportunities to score points.
"We will get challenged immensely by Cessnock, they look like they've recruited very well and they've got some quality players right across the park and a quality coach.
"We're under no illusions that we will need to be at our best to get a good result."