THE Gunnedah Bulldogs have hit the ground running in 2020 by hosting their first pre-season training sessions of the year.
Beginning last week, more than 50 players from all four of the club's grades took to the field to start preparing for the upcoming Group 4 season.
Fitness work and skills training were the order of the day, as the players were put through their paces.
New Bulldogs first-grade coach Mick Schmiedel said several new players had made an appearance during the training sessions.
"We had a few unofficial sessions before Christmas, but we officially kicked off last week," Schmiedel told the Namoi Valley Independent.
"There's been a few guys like KC Edmonds and Trent Hilton who have indicated they will be returning to the club for this season.
"As well as that, Ben Pentors and Blake Huddleston will be joining us this season.
"Ben is from down near Dubbo and he actually travelled up just to train with us, which is just a fantastic show of commitment.
"As for Blake, he was a Newcastle under-23 rep, so he is a fantastic gain for our club."
The Bulldogs will welcome several new and returning players in 2020, but Schmiedel said there would also be some losses.
"At this stage, Kurt Hartmann is on the fence about playing this year," he said.
"He was travelling over from Tamworth and the travel is becoming a bit of an issue, which is understandable.
"Hopefully he does play somewhere, because he would be a real loss to the sport if he didn't play.
"Jasper Thomas has indicated he will be playing AFL this season.
"As well as Kurt and Jasper, Adam Mooney has indicated he has retired, but is still keen to help out where he can."
Schmiedel said the training sessions had been focused on "performance under fatigue".
"We usually start with about 20 minutes of pretty taxing fitness work," he said.
"From there, we tend to focus on some game play and skills.
"It might sound a little bit silly, but those 20 minutes are pretty hard and I really want our players to be able to perform under pressure.
"So far, all of the players have had a real crack and there's a pretty good vibe around at the club at the moment."
The Bulldogs tasted finals action in 2019, but were eventually eliminated in their first finals clash against the Kootingal-Moonbi Roosters.
"I'm really keen to bring success to not just the first-grade side, but the entire club," Schmiedel said.
"That's why it has been so pleasing to see so many players from every side getting involved in training.
"Hopefully, everyone will keep enjoying themselves and the good vibe we've got at the moment can continue."
Schmiedel said he was planning trial matches to help prepare his charges for the season ahead.
"A good friend of mine is the coach over at Singleton and we have organised a trial match for March 14," he said.
"Initially, we thought it might just be a first-grade match, but the strong numbers we are getting at training suggests we could easily field all four teams.
"I know Singleton have four sides as well, so hopefully we can organise that, because it would be a great tune-up for everyone involved."
The Bulldogs' pre-season training sessions will be held Tuesday and Thursday evenings from 6pm at Donnelly Playing Fields.