Tension builds for the opening salvos
A new North Pilbara Football League season kicks off this weekend and North West Telegraph scoped out how each club is shaping up.
In local football circles, 2017 went down as the year of the wolf after the Wickham Wolves league side claimed the NPFL premiership for the first time in club history after a dominant season.
With speed, fitness and a tightknit playing unit among their strengths, the Wolves were a difficult team to beat and only lost one game all year.
However, new league coach Glenn Higgins, who has stepped up from the assistant role, said his players would be coming into round 1 with a fresh mindset and focused on the season ahead.
“I think it’s a new year completely. We had our celebrations last year,” he said.
“We’ve got the same main playing group, though there are a few guys that have left the area. But in a nutshell, the guys are pretty happy they won last year but it’s a new year and the challenge is back on.”
Higgins said the team would aim for the same high success rate as last season but would also be looking to give younger players more opportunities.
He also said the reserves were looking strong, with good numbers at training and a range of ages.
“In the reserves there are a few older heads so they take the younger guys under their wing and show them the way and that’s really what we’re aiming for, to have a good mix,” he said.
The Dampier Sharks had a stellar second half to their 2017 season after a shaky start, overtaking the strong Karratha Kats outfit late in the year to finish second on the ladder and losing the grand final to Wickham by only 25 points.
The team has picked up several new players since then, and enthusiasm is reportedly high, with players hungry to make another play for premiership success.
League coach Beau McDonald said after coming so close the team was aiming to go one better this year, especially by performing well early in the season.
“We’re hoping we can be competitive early on and see where we’re at as the season builds up,” he said. “Every game is crucial. “We only managed to get the home preliminary final by one percentage point (over the Kats), so every game’s important.”
He said the Sharks’ round 1 match, a grand final replay against Wickham, would be especially telling of where the team stood.
The club’s reserves have been attracting big numbers and enthusiasm at training under the wing of new coach Grant Theelan.
“We have had a lot of guys down there, a lot of interest shown,” McDonald said.
The Karratha Kats started 2017 looking dominant, suffering their first loss in round 7, but had an uneven latter half of the season that led to them finishing third on the ladder just behind the Sharks.
Coach John Wellington said the league side had struggled late in the season because of injuries but were looking for a better 2018.
“We have had a good three seasons, so I’m sure we’ll be competitive again,” he said.
“There are still two sides we have to strive to beat though, and going on last year’s results we’ll have to improve to beat them. But I think this year we’ll hit the ground running again and we’re very happy with where we’re at.”
Greater player depth, better fitness and a more attacking focus are all areas the club has been working on for the upcoming season, and they should also be helped by the addition of former Collingwood and Richmond player Andrew Krakouer, whose football knowledge Wellington described as “second to none”.
In the reserves, in which the Kats side were premiers last year, the club has high hopes of a repeat.
Wellington said the young players had been through a good pre-season and were enthusiastic to get out on the field.
“I think one thing we’ve got is depth — we have a list as long as your arm and that will hold us in good stead,” he said.
South Hedland Swans
Despite winning only five games and having no coach until halfway through the season, the South Hedland Swans managed to make it to the final rounds in the 2017 North Pilbara Football League series.
Successfully picking up a league coach, Brendan Wattleworth, from the start, the Swans had a strong pre-season starting in February and have been seeing between 80 and 90 faces each week on the field and in the gym.
Wattleworth, not only new to the team but also to town, said he was impressed with the camaraderie of the team but there was room for improvement.
“We’re hoping we can get the momentum up early on, like last year, but this time keep it going throughout the season — having only five wins going into the final series isn’t something I want to repeat this year,” he said. “The boys have really been working on their strength this pre-season — we have a strong offence but that means nothing if we can’t get the ball back during a game, so that will be a focus for this year.”
Headhunted by president Barry Taylor, Wattleworth has years of experience as a coach in Perth and said the first match the team had against former coach mentor Troy Melville’s team, the Rovers, would be an exciting match and a challenge for the boys.
“We have a lot of guys down here raring to go, so it will be a good season, I think,” he said.
Port Hedland Rovers
The Port Hedland Rovers had a mixed bag for their 2017 season.
Despite taking four games to get a win on the board and ending in the bottom two on the ladder, the Rovers had some dominating wins when the full league team made it onto the field to play.
This year the team welcomes a new leadership team of Russell Pyke as president and Leon Monaghan as reserves coach, with Troy Melville back in the league coach position for 2018.
Melville, coach mentor for South Hedland Swans last year, said the club wanted to ensure each game had a full team of players and that they brought out individual strengths. “Really, the challenge about developing a new group of people and players is getting the best out of them and using the tools we have to do that,” he said.
“Then on the footy field it’ll be about getting our score right, playing our roles on the team, listening to instructions and getting out of our comfort zones and looking at our recoveries.”
With the first match a traditional Hedland derby, the team is looking forward to facing the Swans to see who will have local bragging rights after the round.
The Karratha Falcons’ league players have had a difficult few years despite often giving their opponents a real on-field contest, and had only one win last year.
But league coach Cameron Ling said the players were feeling positive coming into this season after a “gruelling” but productive pre-season targeting fitness, football decision making, and match motivation.
He said the team’s focus would now be on pulling all their work together and getting wins on a week-by-week basis, starting with the round 1 derby match against cross-town rivals the Kats.
“We want to give it a red hot crack,” Ling said of the upcoming season.
“Our main objective is to win games and compete a lot better than in the last couple of years.
“It would be really good to have some club success, especially through the senior (league) squad.”
The Falcons reserves, who narrowly lost in the grand final last year, are also looking confident, with club life member Brett Davy stepping into the coach’s seat, plenty of depth in their ranks, and a similar game plan and style to the league team.
Rovers’ Matt Nicols takes a mark.
Sharks' Travis Murphy scrambles to keep possession.
Rovers’ Chris Sims.
Sharks’ Harrison Weeding.
The Swans and Kats compete for the ball.
A Wolves player.