GROUP 2: Grafton Ghosts buzzing ahead of 2019 season opener
FIRST GRADE: There's a buzz around Frank McGuren Field as the Grafton Ghosts prepare to start their final training session before the Group 2 season opener.
The dressing sheds and clubhouse have been upgraded and given a fresh coat of paint, the first grade side has been buoyed by the return of some familiar faces as well as new additions, and the club has a depth in its reserve grade that would make most other clubs envious.
It's these positive signs that captain-coach Danny Wicks hopes will feed into a positive 2019 season, which starts on Sunday at their home ground against the Orara Valley Axemen.
"We're at the bottom of the mountain at the moment and we can't wait to get to the top," Wicks said.
"We've got our 17 in first grade, then 30 or 35 blokes in reserve grade and with that depth we'd like to hopefully show some strength on the field. It's only early days but we're looking forward to it.
"Change is always good in some format, so the clubhouse has had a paint job and there's a few new faces floating around. The grounds are looking the best I've ever seen them so a big shout-out to the (Clarence Valley) Council who have done a really good job on that."
The return of five-eighth Clint Greenshields provided a boost to the team, as well as the re-signing of 2017 premiership fullback Mitchell Lollback.
"Greeny (Clint Greenshields) is back, which adds the ice to my temper you could say. He is a lot calmer than me and we work really well together," Wicks said.
"We've got a heap of other boys back from last year as well as a few new additions, so I think we've gone from strength to strength on last year.
"Mitch Lollback is out for the first four to six weeks, he has some work commitments so we're a bit upset about that but in saying that, Cooper (Woods) did a fantastic job at fullback last year."
Last season the Ghosts were bundled out of the finals in straight sets, going down to eventual premiers Coffs Harbour Comets 32-18 in the semi-finals before bowing out in the preliminary final with a 19-12 loss to Macksville Sea Eagles.
After falling one game short of the Group 2 grand final last year, Wicks said it would be the week-in, week-out performance that would turn around their disappointing end to the 2018 season.
"How you turn it around is by going week to week, you set yourself goals," he said.
"There's a lot of things that can happen and not everything will go your way, and that day just wasn't our day. I take responsibility for that.
"We let a few little things get to us, so it just starts from round one this year. If we're going to stamp ourselves on this competition we do that week by week, but our goal is to be where we were a couple of years ago. It all starts this week, so that's how you turn things around."
GAME DAY: Grafton Ghosts take on Orara Valley Axemen at Frank McGuren Field. Games start from 11am.
GHOSTS IN 2019
Apr 7: (H) v Orara Valley
Apr 14: (A) v Bellingen
Apr 28: (H) v Sawtell
May 5: (H) v Coffs Harbour
May 12: (A) v Woolgoolga
May 19: (H) v Macksville
May 26: (A) v South Grafton
Jun 2: (A) v Orara Valley
Jun 16: (H) v Bellingen
Jun 23: (A) v Sawtell
Jun 30: (A) v Coffs Harbour
Jul 7: (H) v Woolgoolga
Jul 14: (A) v Macksville
Jul 21: (H) v South Grafton
Jul 27-28: Elimination/ qualifying finals
Aug 3-4: Minor/major finals
Aug 11: Preliminary final
Aug 18: Grand final