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.

North West Telegraph - - Sport -

Wick­ham Wolves

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.

Dampier Sharks

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.

Kar­ratha Kats

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.

Kar­ratha Fal­cons

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.

Pic­tures: Tay­lar Amonini

Rovers’ Matt Nicols takes a mark.

Sharks' Travis Mur­phy scram­bles to keep pos­ses­sion.

Rovers’ Chris Sims.

Sharks’ Har­ri­son Weed­ing.

Pic­ture: Ben Leahy

The Swans and Kats com­pete for the ball.

Pic­ture: Sophia Con­stan­tine

A Wolves player.

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