BACK TOGETHER: The 2019 SFNL season will see the Hards brothers, Ryan, Colby and Brad, play alongside each other for the first time since 2015. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

By MITCH RODD

WEARING green and white of Imperials feels so natural for Ryan Hards, it’s almost like he never left.

He indeed had, but following a three-year stint in the Essendon and District Football League (EDFL) with Keilor, the midfield maestro returns to his roots in 2019.

In a family reunion of sorts, ‘Junior’ will play alongside brothers Brad and Colby in the Sunraysia Football and Netball League (SFNL) for the first time since 2015.

Their last outing together is memorable for the wrong reasons, with Imps losing the 2015 grand final to Red Cliffs. They are now looking to write another chapter together, alongside a number of other key recruits.

Premiership star from 2013, Luke Sicker, returns following a three-year coaching tenure with home club Brother Bulldogs, part of the AFL Wide Bay competition in Queensland.

Former West Adelaide SANFL small forward David Hankin adds further leadership and goal sense, after booting 47 goals in 18 matches for Handorf in the South Australian Hill’s Football League in 2018.

The experienced trio, amongst other inclusions into the 2019 squad, have Imperials primed to return to the finals for the first time since that grand final loss.

Imps only missed making the top four by percentage in each of the last two seasons, and Hards believes coach Adam Hartlett has put together a strong squad for this season.

“It seems like a good time to return to Imperials,” he said.

“The boys haven’t been too far off the pace in the last few years. They’ve been unfortunate with a few injuries, and some close results went against them.

“It’s been a pretty close competition for the last few years and hopefully we can see an improvement.

“Luke Sicker and David Hankin look to be big recruits. Luke is a gun player and has been a coach for the last three years. He, ‘Hanks’ and I bring that bit of on-field leadership and voice.

“That may be an area that was lacking, but there wasn’t really too much else.”

Hards has spent the past three seasons playing under former Collingwood great Mick McGuane at Keilor, being joined at the Blues in 2018 by former Mildura star and 2017 McLeod Medallist, Josh Martin, last season.

McGuane’s side made the EDFL Premier Division grand final, but were defeated by Aberfeldie.

Hards will continue to live in Melbourne and commute back home regularly to play with Imperials.

He and his teammates impressed with a pre-season win over Ouyen United.

Hards said it felt natural wearing the Imperials colours again.

“It’s like I haven’t left. There are a couple of fresh faces around but most of the guys I’ve played with before,” he said.

“It was great (playing at Keilor). I met some fantastic people and I challenged myself playing in a strong competition. I think I will miss it a little bit but I’m looking forward to getting back into playing with the Imps boys.”

Imperials will play South Mildura in Round One of the SFNL season tomorrow.