IT HAS been a long time coming but the start of this year's season is finally here and it's great to have the 'footy buzz' back around the region.
The final siren of the 2016 season sounded 230 days ago and all thirteen teams across the Central Highlands are ready to kick off Round 1 of the competition.
This round is also XXXX Rivalry Round with some great footy to be played between arch-rivals.
ROUND 1 FIXTURES
Blackwater Crushettes v Emerald Cowgirls
5.45pm Saturday, April 22
Macca's Oval Bluff
The last time these two teams met was in last year's semi-final with the game going into extra time after a thrilling sixty minutes.
Since last season, there have been a few roster changes in both sides, most notably the Cowgirls losing star fullback Kailah Rogers to Clermont.
The Crushettes have a few new recruits who will make their debut this weekend and have plenty of depth this season which is great for Women's Rugby League in the Central Highlands.
Can the Crushettes win against the Bluff curse?
Most punters will be backing in Blackwater to win but the Cowgirls won't give up the two points without a fight.
Bluff Rabbitohs v Blackwater Crushers
7.30pm Saturday, April 22
Macca's Oval Bluff
The great rivalry that stretches across 20km of the Capricorn Highway.
This game means a lot to both clubs, playing off for the annual Kelly O'Brien Memorial Shield and despite recent dominance by the Rabbitohs, this year might be a different story.
The Crushers have recruited well this season with the key signings of Gavin Duffy and Dean Blackman and have also been lucky enough to pick up a few Rabbitohs who have crossed the Boonal Overpass to be part of the Crushers outfit.
The Rabbitohs were the quiet achievers last year who flew under the radar to finish second in the home and away season and don't write off that not happening again this season.
Jack Laxton was a great pickup for Bluff last season and only at 20 years of age, led from the front and was one of the Rabbitohs' best.
Chris Conway had a good season last year as did Dane Heron in the halves and it's expected that those two along with Jack will run out with the Rabbitohs again this year.
It's a special day for Bluff tomorrow as they host the first ever Junior fixtures with Blackwater playing Emerald Brothers followed by the Women's game between Blackwater and Cowgirls before the Men's clash and it's expected a massive crowd will pack the grandstands at Macca's Oval for the occasion.
With the good recruitment of the Crushers outfit this year, the Kelly O'Brien shield may change hands with the Crushers to get the win over the home side. It will be a close one though with only a try or two the difference in the result.
Middlemount Panthers v Dysart Bulls
7pm Saturday, April 22
Norm Blanche Oval Middlemount
The Middlemount Panthers will be wanting to right the wrongs this season following a narrow defeat in the Grand Final last year.
Early indications suggest they have retained most their 2016 side including halves Mitch Wyatte and Joel Duffy who were a dangerous combination last season. It will be interesting to see how Wyatte holds up after battling a groin injury in second half of last year's season.
Dysart came 'oh-so' close last year defeating the premiers, Emerald Tigers, both times in the home and away season - the only team to do so in the competition.
For the Bulls, Josh Kilpatrick will likely miss this year's entire season following shoulder surgery late last year and the club will also be without fullback Phil Derksen and hooker Clayton Kilpatrick some weeks due to work commitments.
These losses will make it hard for Dysart but will give the younger players an opportunity to stand up and lead their side around in those positions this season.
It will be a battle of the forwards but Middlemount will start the game favourites and should kick-start their premiership redemption with a win at home.
Springsure Mountain Men v Emerald Cowboys
7pm Saturday, April 22
Bauhinia Park Springsure
Last year's success for the Springsure Mountain Men was great to see after a few tough years and it's anticipated that they should continue their winning ways this season.
The Mountain Men have secured Ray Ebsworth from the Tigers and will most likely play out the back or partner Jared Owens in the halves.
Springsure had a strong forward pack last year and if they can retain most of their forwards, they are destined to play finals footy this year.
The Cowboys put a strong performance in at the Shorty Moffatt Cup early in the preseason but their form is unknown at this early stage of the competition.
Kerryn Brice has returned to the Cowboys and will most likely play as hooker with Andrew Doyle to steer the team around at halfback.
Springsure should get the win at home to start their campaign.
Emerald Tigers Ladies v Clermont Bears Ladies
2.30pm Sunday, April 23
McIndoe Park Emerald
It couldn't get any better on a Sunday afternoon with a grand final replay to start the Tigers and Bears seasons.
The Emerald Tigers
Clermont's defeat in the big dance at this very ground last year would have hurt but the Bears have made up for their losses.
They've recruited a few notable players including Kailah Rogers (Cowgirls) and Mel Micallef (Dysart) to bolster their ranks leading to a few positional changes including a presumable change for Carly Bell to move from fullback to the back row.
With the Bears' improved playing roster, they should start favourites despite playing away from home.
Expect a close affair but the Bears should get one back on the Tigers in revenge of last year's premiership.
Emerald Tigers v Clermont Bears
4pm Sunday, April 23
McIndoe Park Emerald
The second game of the double header at McIndoe on a Sunday afternoon in Round 1 ... it couldn't get any better for rugby league lovers in Emerald?
Despite the game being last year's premiers against last year's wooden spooners, the game should be completely different to what might be expected.
The Tigers have lost a few players from last year's premiership wining side including Ray Ebsworth, Reece Kennaugh, Darcy Hardess, Boyze Harbord and Leith Paton but have got some young and upcoming recruits to fill the voids.
The Bears were in with a chance in most games last year but with a very young team, they just couldn't secure the wins.
A few experienced players have returned to the Bears roster this year to evenly balance the side with youth and experience.
An upset might be on the cards on Sunday with the Bears hoping to use last year's wooden spoon to cook up a premiership at the end of the season.
The Central Highlands Junior Rugby League season also kicks off this weekend with the following fixtures:
Blackwater Crushers v Emerald Brothers Blue at Macca's Oval Bluff (U6s - U17s)
Clermont Bears v Middlemount Panthers at Clermont Sportsgrounds (U6s - U11s)
Emerald Tigers v Peak Downs Pirates at McIndoe Park Emerald (U6s - U17s)
Dysart Bulls v Gemfields Giants at Vince Coyne Oval Dysart (U6s - U13s)
Springsure v Emerald Brothers White at Bauhinia Park Springsure (U6s - U11s)
For full results, ladders and upcoming fixtures of the Central Highlands Rugby League, visit www.chrugbyleague.com.au.