Don't forget us: Forshaw
The Cooma Tigers begin their quest to defend the Capital Football Premier League with key players (L-R), Jair Wilk, Stephen Domenici, Goran Mukepski, Rob Cattanach and Alex Castro. Photo: Melissa Adams
The Cooma Tigers are the defending grand final winners, but Belconnen United coach Steve Forshaw has insisted both clubs deserve to be equal favourites for the inaugural Canberra National Premier League.
The Tigers can sit back and observe what their main rivals have learned over the summer when the competition kicks off this weekend.
While the Tigers kick up their heels having had their opening-round match postponed until next month, the Blue Devils are away to Canberra City on Sunday.
The Blue Devils were the dominant force in the league championship a season ago, only to go down 2-1 to the Tigers in the decider.
The leading team at the end of the regular season will qualify for the Australia-wide play-offs of the National Premier League, for the first time pitting the best state league teams against each other.
Forshaw believes there's little separating the Blue Devils and the Tigers.
''As defending champions you become a bigger target, and I'm expecting the competition will improve substantially from last year,'' he said.
''In Australia, what you're aiming for is two trophies - the minor premiership and the grand final.
''We were a whisker away, as were Cooma, from taking out the double.''
Stephen Domenici's brilliant 91st-minute strike proved the difference in one of the most gripping grand finals in recent memory.
The Tigers have retained the core of that title-winning squad with the exception of striker Alex Oloriegbe, who has joined Canberra FC.
Oloriegbe and Domenici finished in a four-way tie as the competition's leading goal-scorer, finding the net 21 times, equal with Belconnen United's reigning three-time player of the year Dustin Wells and new Canberra Olympic signing Mark Shields from Tuggeranong United.
While Oloriegbe's departure will be a blow for the Tigers, Domenici believes they have the depth to once again compete for the title.
''We're just going into this season to continue on and I don't think there's much pressure on us,'' Domenici said. ''It was a good feeling to score the goal to win, but those things happen and I've got to put my head back on my shoulders and try and do it again this season.''
Forshaw said having the opportunity for his club to test itself against the best state league teams from across the country was a tantalising prospect.
''It's the gold medal that you're aiming for,'' he said.
''It takes you out of your comfort zone and gives you a new experience.
''To go into a competition against teams from other states would be a fantastic experience.''
The Canberra National Premier League has been increased to nine teams, with the AIS entering a side for the first time.
The AIS isn't eligible for the finals and will feature in only 16 of the 21 rounds.
Canberra Premier League: Canberra FC v Tuggeranong United at Deakin Stadium, 3pm; Canberra City v Belconnen United at Hawker Football Centre, 3pm; Monaro Panthers v Canberra Olympic, 3pm.