The 2023 George Tooke Shield will kick off on Saturday, and excitement is building ahead of a terrific season of country rugby league.

Crookwell will enter the competition as Premiers, while Bungendore will be stinging after winning the Minor Premiership before the Tigers fell short against the Green Devils in the 2022 decider.

Cootamundra and Harden had their chances last season, with the former Group 9 powerhouses going close after making the finals.

The Bulldogs and Hawks are expected to compete for the title again in 2023. Interestingly, Binalong have gone into recess, but Bungendore has returned to the fold, and they will be looking to push for a few good results, along with a Boomanulla side that went through the 2022 season winless.

North Canberra, Boorowa, and the UC Stars will push for their place in the all-important top-five. The sport’s team at the Cootamundra Times have cast their eye over the George Tooke Shield competition, offering some local insight while predicting where teams will finish on the ladder at the end of the season.

While we hope the local sides do well and finish higher we have had to put teams in a predicted position somewhere. Round one First-Grade draw – Saturday April 15 2 pm:

Burrangong v Boomanulla at Cranfield Oval 2 pm: Bungendore v Crookwell at Mick Sherd Oval 2.30 pm:

North Canberra v Boorowa at Kaleen Enclosed Oval 3 pm: Harden v Cootamundra at McLean Oval Bye: UC Stars Round one League-Tag draw – Saturday April 15 1 pm:

Burrangong v Gunning at Cranfield Oval 1 pm: Bungendore v Crookwell at Mick Sherd Oval 1.15 pm: North Canberra v Boorowa at Kaleen Enclosed Oval 1.50 pm: Harden v Cootamundra at McLean Oval Bye: UC Stars BUNGENDORE TIGERS 2022 finish:

Minor Premiers and runners-up 2023 prediction: Third Coach: Jack Bramley Summary: Bungendore was a defensive powerhouse in 2022, conceding just 137 points in 12 games, and they edged the likes of Crookwell, Cootamundra and Harden to win the Minor Premiership.

The Tigers got through to the Grand Final but fell to Crookwell 14-10, but with Jack Bramley guiding their ship, the Canberra outfit could go one better in 2023.

CROOKWELL GREEN DEVILS 2022 finish: Premiers 2023 prediction: Runners-up Coach: Brian Gray Summary: The reigning George Tooke Shield premiers will have a big target on their back. The Green Devils have impressed throughout the pre-season and will undoubtedly be one of the teams to beat in 2023. However, depth could be an issue for Brian Gray’s men, especially with every rival out to knock over the reigning champions.

COOTAMUNDRA BULLDOGS 2022 finish: 3rd 2023 prediction: Premiers Coaches: Mark Ward and Aaron Byrne Summary: Cootamundra were unlucky not to secure a home Semi-Final in 2022, which eventually decided their fate. Still, they were imposing, and now they boast a young and vibrant squad in 2023. The Bulldogs mean business, and after finding their feet in the George Tooke Shield last season, Cootamundra will be ready to strike this year.

HARDEN HAWKS 2022 finish: 4th 2023 prediction: 5th Coach: Nick Hall Summary: The Hawks finished fourth overall on the 2022 George Tooke Shield ladder and were knocked out in the second semi-final by Cootamundra when going down 12-11. Harden is still waiting on some experienced players to return to the fold, meaning coach Nick Hall will have to call upon some young local talent. The Hawks have the talent to be a top-four team, but they need to get everyone on the paddock if they want to be contenders.

NORTH CANBERRA BEARS 2022 finish: 5th 2023 prediction: 4th Coach: Rick Thorley Summary: If North Canberra can rediscover the form that saw them dominate in 2021, they will be a force this season.

Last year was a failure by their standards, with the Canberra side just scraping into the finals. Rick Thorley will have the Bears ready to bite down on the opposition, and they deserve the utmost respect.

BOOROWA ROVERS 2022 finish: 6th 2023 prediction: 6th Coach: Alex Stewart Summary: Boorowa can play finals, but depth and player availability will be a big issue. They just missed finals in 2022, but it was an improved effort after registering only three wins the season before. The Rovers look to be an improving outfit, and they will need to take another big step up if they want to play finals.

UNIVERSITY OF CANBERRA STARS 2022 finish: 7th 2023 prediction: 7th Coach: Dave Turner Summary: The Stars look to be the wildcard of the competition, with the Canberra team expected to welcome a few new faces this season. They went from one win in 2021 to five wins in 2022, but their list is often determined by young players coming through the university, and they will need to add some talent to make finals.

BOOMANULLA RAIDERS 2022 finish: 8th 2023 prediction: 8th Coach: Rick Immanuel Summary: Boomanulla struggled in 2022, losing every game of the George Tooke Shield. There has been little news from the club regarding player retention and recruitment, and it appears it could be another long year for the Raiders. Burrangong Bears 2022 finish: N/A 2023 prediction: 7th Coach: Stewart James Summary: After a year in the wilderness, the Burrangong Bears have returned to the promised land. It is great to have the Bears back, and Stewart James looks to be a good pick-up as captain/coach. Burrangong played a trial earlier this month against Grenfell, going down 38-12, but it was a good hitout for the Bears. It will be a tough first season back, but we are predicting a few wins and exemplary efforts on the paddock.