Weekly Times | MOVE over Stawell Gift, there is another sporting event in town this weekend.
The Wimmera Football League kicks off its new season with the league’s first Good Friday match, the day before Australia’s richest footrace kicks off.
The combatants are Stawell Warriors and Ararat Rats, whose seasons ended in heartbreak last year.
The Rats missed out on a place in the finals by less than 5 per cent, with five wins enough to see Warrack Eagles into an elimination final.
The Warriors lost the preliminary final to Minyip-Murtoa by three points (the Burras lost the grand final to Horsham Saints by two points).
The Battle of the Divide will also decide the Perc Bushby Cup, named for the Essendon premiership player who played at both clubs.
The cup, which is decided by the day’s football and netball matches, is in the hands of the Warriors, who will play for the first time under playing coach Tom Eckel.
Ararat’s new skipper, Ryan Bates, a club best-and-fairest winner in his second senior season in 2011, said there was a fresh outlook in the team under new co-coaches Mick Fratin and Terry Keilar.
“It’s been a long pre-season so it’s always good to get the first game out of the way,” Bates, 24, said.
“(Last year) was pretty disappointing, you always want to play finals and after playing finals (in 2014 and 2015) ... so we had high expectations at the start of the year.”
Stawell president Debbie Bach said the club felt the Good Friday match was a good opportunity to showcase the Wimmera league to people from outside of town.
“Thousands of people flock to Stawell for the Stawell Gift so we thought we could capture some of that audience to come watch the local football and netball,” Bach said.
“There are no other games in the area and we’re one of the first to trial it, we were keen to try something new and hopefully it’s a success for us.”