Anzac Cup battle of Byron

Defending Anzac Cup soccer champions Byron Bay will open their campaign for a hat-trick of titles tonight, but can expect fierce rivalry in their local derby with Bangalow at Schultz Oval, Bangalow, from 8pm.

Their clash will be the second of a double-header, following Richmond Rovers' battle with Ballina from 6pm.

Italo Stars host Casino at 8pm in the third of tonight's first-round games to open the 2005 Soccer FNC season.

The remaining two games of the first round will be played on Sunday, with Goonellabah making its long-awaited return to the premier ranks against Maclean at Woodburn and Lismore Workers travelling to Thistles Park to take on the Blues.

While Byron Bay is still the big brother in its local derby with Bangalow tonight, the migration of four former Rams to the Bluedogs will add fuel to the fire of their rivalry.

Brendan Parkes, Glen Sheld-rick and Floyd Pandava have all switched from Byron to Bangalow, while another former Ram, Nepalese striker Sathis Sthapit, has also joined the Bluedogs.

Only Parkes and Sthapit will start tonight against a full strength Rams outfit that will go in as favourites after looking impressive in taking out the inaugural North Coast Sevens a fortnight ago.

The curtain-raiser between 2004 minor premiers Richmond Rovers and Ballina will see Rovers take the field without many of last year's regulars, while Ballina has improved its squad.

Italo Stars have new signings from Casino in Wayne Mortimer and Scott Creighton, but both are unavailable tonight.

Their appearance would have added spice to the contest, but with Casino suffering major losses during the off season, the Cobras face an uphill struggle.

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