Llanelli AFC will bid to regain their position as one of the dominant clubs in the Welsh Premier League without the presence of their talismanic forward and captain from last season.
Changes to the budgeting structure at Stebonheath Park mean that manager Andy Legg has to engineer an improvement on last term's fourth-place finish with a squad that many supporters would argue is weaker than the one that set out at the start of the 2011/12 campaign.
Llanelli prepare to face Port Talbot Town FC on Saturday in the season's opener and will be looking to re-establish themselves alongside The New Saints FC and Bangor City FC as the teams most likely to collect silverware.
But without star striker Rhys Griffiths, who switched to Port Talbot in the summer after six years at Llanelli in which he scored 180 goals in 181 league games and was the golden boot winner each season, as well as captain Stuart Jones – described by Legg as "probably the best centre-half in the league" – who has joined Aberystwyth Town FC, it looks a tall order.
"Obviously it's disappointing to lose two of your best players but that's the reality of the modern game with financial pressures," said Legg. "Unfortunately it seems that while other teams are increasing their budgets we are going the other way. It's concerning but we are not making excuses. I think it will be a more open league than before and we've told our squad what it will take to win it."
At least there is no danger of Griffiths coming back to haunt Llanelli. Soon after he transferred to Port Talbot, Plymouth Argyle FC of England's fourth tier took him on trial and the 32-year-old impressed enough to earn a one-year contract. "Games between us are always close affairs and I don't expect this to be any different," Legg added. "Earlier in the summer it was being built up as Rhys Griffiths versus Llanelli but that is not the case any more."
Legg lured Martin Rose from Port Talbot to plug the goals deficit created by Griffiths's departure, and with Luke Bowen and Geoff Kellaway among other recruits he is confident they will continue to score freely. "I'm very pleased with what I've brought in," he added. "They are very good players. I've watched them for a number of years and they've impressed whoever they've played for."
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