Orange's five biggest games to start the 2014 Blowes Clothing Cup

TO paraphrase an old saying - you don't win premierships in April.

It's as true in the Blowes Clothing Cup as it is in any other football code.

Filling the trophy cabinet is all about peaking in September, timing your run so that you're playing your best when the stakes are highest.

But it's also true that those teams who hit the ground running in autumn and winter will give themselves the best chance of making their presence felt in spring.

Orange City coach Steve Hamson knows it.

So too his Emus counterpart Andrew Logan.

And for that reason both will have circled certain dates in their diaries after last week's release of the 2014 draw.

Rounds one to nine - the first half of the season - are littered with chances for both sides to sound a warning to their Central West rivals. 

Here's the five early-season games with the potential to make their respective campaigns.

Round 1: BATHURST BULLDOGS V ORANGE EMUS, Ashwood Park, Bathurst, Saturday, April 5:

Emus face arguably the toughest start to the 2014 campaign of any team in the competition.

Three of their first four games are on the road, including a brace of trips to Bathurst to kick off the season.

Their only home game in the first month is against last year's grand finalists and perennial heavyweights Parkes Boars.

Daunting stuff for 2014's wooden spooners.

All the more reason for Logan to have his troops ready to fire against the Bulldogs on April 5.

In 2013 the two sides squared off twice in the space of eight days, with Emus prevailing 13-10 and 26-18 in a pair of bruising encounters.

But the Dogs have strengthened their squad ahead of this season's campaign, most notably through the return of powerhouse No.8 Hayden Tidswell.

A true test of Emus' credentials.

Round 1: PARKES BOARS V ORANGE CITY LIONS, Northparkes Oval, Parkes, Saturday, April 5:

A grand final replay in round one: what better way for the Lions to draw a line in the sand in 2014.

The two-times undefeated premiers will travel to Northparkes Oval on April 5 with the confidence that only two consecutive seasons of dominance can instill.

All the more so because their opponents will be the same team they dealt a thrashing to in last season's decider.

But if it's possible for a side that hasn't tasted defeat in over two years to have a bogey side, then the Boars are that team for the Lions.

Not only are they the last side to defeat City - a 20-13 loss in the 2011 preliminary final - but they also came within seconds of ending the Lions' current unbeaten streak, going down 24-21 courtesy of a Mesui Lemoto try in the dying moments of one of their 2013 clashes.

Tellingly, both of those fixtures were in Parkes.

It's a tough trip, even for a side which is accustomed to success.

Hamson and his coaching staff will be focused on making a powerful statement.

Round 4: DUBBO KANGAROOS V ORANGE EMUS, Victoria Park, Dubbo, Saturday, May 3:

So much of Emus' attitude to one of the Blowes Clothing Cup's toughest road trips will depend on their results in the first three rounds.

A couple of early wins will see them journey to Victoria Park confident of repeating the upset they inflicted on 'Roos in 2013.

Coming off loses, the 300km round trip will feel like 3000.

Either way, the Dubbo side are certain to play in their aggressive and confrontational style, an attitude Emus will need to emulate if they are to make any meaningful impression.

The absence of decorated hooker Peter Nau from the 'Roos line up will undoubtedly make the task easier.

So to the memory of their 24-7 success in Dubbo less than 12 months ago.

For any side looking to break into the top half of the ladder, wins away from home are more precious than gold.

Logan's boys will be desperate to secure the four competition points.

Round 7: ORANGE EMUS V MUDGEE WOMBATS, Endeavour Oval, Orange, Saturday, May 24:

Welcome back to Orange, Wombats.

Come May 24 Mudgee will have played six games in their return to the Central West's top-flight competition, including four on home turf.

But their trip to Endeavour Oval will be their first game in Orange in six years.

Those in charge of the Wombats' burrow for 2014 have shied away from bold predictions of immediate success, preferring instead to state that any form of competitiveness will be an achievement in itself.

And rightly so, given the size of their task.

But Mudgee's lack of expectation heaps pressure on opponents like Emus, who will likely need to secure the maximum five points against them to stay on par with the top teams of the competition.

Anything less will be a body blow to Logan's finals aspirations.

Playing in front of their faithful, look for Emus to put on a show.

Round 9: ORANGE EMUS V ORANGE CITY LIONS, Endeavour Oval, Orange, Saturday, June 14:

Prepare for war.

Nothing short of a volcanic eruption from Mount Canobolas will bring a halt to the hostilities in the season's first derby.

On home turf, Emus will look to end their recent drought against the defending premiers.

And they're not without hope.

Despite City's overwhelming supremacy against other opponents across the past two seasons, their clashes with their arch-rivals have always been tight affairs.

In fact, the Greens are the only side to take more than loser's points from the Lions, courtesy of a 3-all draw in 2012.

By this stage of the season much of the dust will have settled and there will be a distinct hierarchy in the competition.

But regardless of their standings, both camps will be desperate to bragging rights.

Unquestionably the most important game in the first half of the minor premiership.

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