THE beauty about the start of a new Coastal Premier League season is that everyone is on the same footing, but nothing is forever.
If we learned anything about the inaugural season it was that there were three distinct groups of teams – the front-runners, the challengers and the underdogs.
Sawtell, Kempsey and Taree have some significant ground to make up as the teams who occupied the bottom three rungs of the ladder when the pandemic ended the competition after nine rounds.
The Scorpions, Saints and Wildcats were 11 points, 14 points and 15 points respectively behind the premiers Coffs United after nine rounds.
But a new season brings fresh hope and expectations with Saints mentor Evan Clarke focused on having his team prove people wrong after he made the transition from Macleay Valley.
Sawtell coach Joe Skrtic finds himself in a similar position to Clarke with both teams placing an emphasis on a young and fit, but inexperienced playing roster.
The Scorpions conceded too many goals in key moments of fixtures last season and they must find a way to stop that happening again if they are to close the gap between themselves and the front-runners.
Taree will hope the addition of Jackson Witt can solve their goalscoring woes after they scored a measly three goals in nine matches.
The gap between themselves and those at the top of the competition appears to be too much to bridge in 12 months and they are likely to again feature in the bottom half.
Port United, Coffs Tigers, Macleay Valley and Northern Storm were all hamstrung by inconsistency in 2020.
United registered a win, a draw and a loss against the top three sides which proved they had the ability to match it with the best in the competition.
But they gifted Taree their only win of the season and were held to a home draw by Kempsey and also suffered on the wrong end of the scoreboard up at Sawtell.
The Tigers also had a win, a draw and a loss against the top three sides, but defeats to Port United, Coffs United and Northern Storm proved costly.
Macleay Valley only had two losses, but it was their inability to convert leads into victories that brought them undone.
Four draws from eight starts ultimately cost them the premiers plate with a 3-2 loss at home to Northern Storm a match they were left to rue.
Whether Northern Storm can step up and challenge the pacesetters is the one question they will need to answer to make the finals this year.
The Storm beat who they should have beaten, but three defeats in their three matches against the top three sides meant there are more questions than answers regarding their ability to challenge for the title.
It again looks likely Coffs United, Boambee and Port Saints will again be up towards the top of the ladder.
All three clubs have stability in their playing rosters with pieces of individual brilliance likely to be the key between winning and losing.
Blow that whistle, ref!