Lake Macquarie coach Anthony Richards hasno illusions about how hard the step up to the Northern NSW National Premier League will be this year for his Roosters.

NEW BLOOD: Former Jaffa Tom Smart, pictured in 2015, will return to the NPL with Lake Macquarie after a season off. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Which is one reason why Lake Macquarie will be out to win theinauguralHeritage Cup pre-season competitionthis Friday to Sunday.

“It’s a cup, it’s a competition, so we’ll have a crack at it,” Richards said.“It might be the only thing we win this year. It might be the only grand final we make, if we’re good enough toqualify.We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ll just look to go out and do the best we can in every game.”

A week out from the start of their return to the NPL, Lake Macquarie will be one ofseven first- and second-tier clubs with more than 100 years of history taking part in the Heritage Cup. Interdistrict clubMaryland Fletcher are playing in place of the defunct Minmi Rangers, who were the region’s first club.

The cup, also featuring NPL clubs Adamstown, Weston and Edgeworth, could be an early guide to how Lake Macquarie will handle their return to the top level.

Former Lambton JaffaTom Smart and the likes ofTom Sparre, Justin Broadley, goalkeeper Benn Kelly and Matt Toohey have joined the Roosters and will give them valuable state league/NPL experience, but Richards said “it might takes us a bit to get used to the pace”.

The Roosters were minor premiers in all grades of the second-tier last year and were the only club promoted for the new three-year NPL licencing period, taking the league from 10 to 11 clubs.

Despite that success, the additions and the retention of players like Sam Walker, Tom Walker, Blake Green, Steve Rospigliosiand Corey Fletcher, Richards said expectations were low for their first year back in the league since 2014.

“I don’t see us winning the comp but I just hope we’re competitive,” he said.“We know where we are at in the pecking order, so we are hoping to just get better as the year goes along. That’s our goal.”

The Roosters, who lost to major premiers Wallsend in the semi-finals last year,start the season away to Weston, the 2016 NPL wooden spooners, on Sunday, March 12.

On Friday, Lake Macquarie play Maryland Fletcher from 7.45pm in Pool B of the Heritage Cup at Adamstown.

They take on West Wallsend (11am) and Adamstown (4pm) in their other 60-minute pool games on Saturday in the quest to make the Sunday 10am grand final at Adamstown.

“Every game is difficult for us,” Richards said.“We missed out on a grand final last year in the NEWFM comp but we’ll have 20 of them this year.”

“We’ve pretty much kept the guys that we wanted, so we’re a happy bunch and the ones who have come into the club are known to the group already so that’s made it easier.”

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