Lambton Jaffas have started life after two-time grand final-winning hero Jobe Wheelhouse and former Socceroos Joel and Ryan Griffiths with a recruitment drive taking Queensland, New Zealand and some familiar faces.
Jaffas finished fourth last season before bowing out to premiers Edgeworth in an epic extra-time semi-final second leg, and it was feared that would be the last appearance for their star trio.
Wheelhouse, now 33, scored off the bench in last year's semi-final defeat but he started only four times in 12 games all season as he struggled with his surgically repaired ankle. The operation came after the former Jets captain played with a fractured ankle in the Jaffas' grand final win in 2017 over Edgeworth.
He had hoped to play on in 2019 and beyond after treatment in the off-season but he has not returned.
Ryan, 37, and Joel, 39, have also called it a day after featuring for Lambton over the past two season. Their influence was restricted last year as Joel's football operations role with the Jets became full-time and Ryan battled a groin injury.
Jaffas coach James Pascoe has recruited well to fill the void but said the club would miss the experienced group.
"The transition from those boys wouldn't be as much as if they had have been playing week in, week out," Pascoe said. "There will still be an adjustment period for us, no doubt, but we'll just try to get better as the season progresses and sneak into that top four if we can."
The loss of Wheelhouse to injury was especially hard to take for Lambton. The highly respected midfielder was man of the match in the club's first NPL grand final win, in 2014, and his switch to the league sparked other clubs to bring in their own marquee players.
"He was in his prime," Pascoe said of Wheelhouse.
"It's a different story when you come into this league after you've retired from the A-League, at the end of your ability to play there, but Jobe still had four or five years left in him to play at that level.
"He's been the premier player in the league for quite a few years."
Lambton have also lost Marcus Duncan (Hamilton), Ben Hay (Valentine) and Ridge Mapu (injury).
Pascoe has found local replacements in Jacob Bailey, Andrew Pawiak, Isaac Sefo and Josh Sutton. Bailey has joined from Hamilton, and fellow midfielder Pawiak, who played with the Jets Youth and Maitland, returns from stints in the Philippines and with Melbourne club Hume. Sefo is a forward from the Jets academy and ex-Belmont Swansea attacker Sutton gets his chance after impressing in pre-season.
The Jaffas also have central defender Will McFarlane from Queensland NPL team Western Pride and Brock Messenger and James Pendrigh from finals-bound New Zealand league club Canterbury Dragons.
Right fullback Messenger is a former Kiwi youth international and Pendrigh a central midfielder.
Pascoe said both will not join Lambton until round four or five because of overlapping seasons.
He said the club had gained positive feedback about the New Zealand recruits from Wellington veterans Andrew Durante and Ben Sigmund.
Pascoe believed Lambton would be challenging for a finals place again.
"Out of the second leg semi-final starting team against Edgeworth, we've still got eight of the 11 from that," he said.
"Ryan, Ben and Marcus started that game. Ridge had done his knee two weeks earlier and Jobe and Joel were on the bench, so there's still the nucleus there.
"From what I can see at this stage, we'll be in a fight for fourth again. We'll push for that top four."