A look at how the teams are shaping up
It’s football season again as the North Pilbara Football League kicks off the first of its 2016 matches this weekend.
Teams have had to do without a pre-season tournament this year, leaving the competition wide open for anyone to make their mark on in the weeks to come.
The Pilbara News and North West Telegraph scoped out how the teams are shaping up.
South Hedland Swans
Last year’s premiers South Hedland Swans provided the 2015 NPFL season with a fairytale finish as they ended a 19-year drought by taking home the premiership cup in front of a packed home crowd.
Long blessed with some of the NPFL’s fastest and most skilful athletes, the Swans found an edge last year under new coach Troy Melville by combining their raw talent with grit and determination.
The challenge for Melville and his players is whether they can stay motivated to put in the hard work or whether they return to past years when lapses in discipline prevented them from reaching their potential.
Swans co-captain Jeffrey Bann said based on the team’s scratch match last week, the South Hedland players were already running hard as they used the hit-out to work on their structures, game plan and interchanges.
In losing a few league players from last year, but also gaining promising recruits, he said the team entered 2016 confident.
“The old mastermind himself Troy Melville is good the way he explains footy and the way we play to his structures,” Bann said.
“Everything down to how he has helped the juniors had helped bond the team together.”
Dampier Sharks had a strong season last year and were the minor premiers until reaching the grand final, where they were outclassed by the Swans and forced to settle for the title of runners-up. Coach Kristian Dicton said the finals loss had been tough on the whole team, but the season had overall been a positive one.
“It was pretty heart-breaking, but saying that we improved from the year before,” he said.
“Definitely being in the grand final was an improvement from the year before.”
He said the team had gone through a “big change” losing and gaining players and how the players would come together and fare this season was “pretty hard to tell at this point”, but, overall, club morale was strong.
The Wolves had a solid 2015 season with a third-placed finish and a spot in the preliminary finals.
President Paul Lott said the team were pleased with their effort last year but hoped to re-group and take it even further this year.
“Basically, we’ve got the same outfit as last year,” he said.
“They’re a very young, fast, fit team, who are probably a little bit more experienced than last year. So we hope that holds us in good stead for the end of the year.
“We haven’t got a player who you would call really dominant, just an overall balanced team.”
Lott said the squad’s pre-season game against experienced “Legends” players with the club had helped to sharpen up their skills and they were looking forward to a “good close season”.
Port Hedland Rovers
Perennial NPFL powerhouses Port Hedland Rovers are known for turning up on grand final day after claiming the 2011-13 premierships and losing the 2014 decider.
That made 2015 even harder to stomach for the league’s highachievers after they were bundled out early in the finals.
With the Rovers reserves side also performing below the Bulldogs’ normal standards, the club’s lack of depth led to the league team turning in inconsistent performances throughout 2015.
Coach Greg Mastrangelo acknowledged his side lost a host of players, who left town last year because of the economic downturn, but said 2016 was looking much better. “We’ve managed to secure high-quality players who will add to our mix of local guys in an effort to give 2016 a better shake,” he said.
“Certainly last year, the Swans played a fast and open brand of football. “We have managed to pick up a couple of guys with leg speed, which will help us match up better against those fast running sides.
“They should mix well with the solid experienced players we’ve had for a number of years now.”
2014 premiers the Kats started well last season but ended up with a fifth finish on the league table after suffering a spate of injuries towards the end of the season.
It was left to the reserves to claim grand final victory for the club.
Coach David van Raalte, who oversaw the reserves last year, said they had a strong starting outfit this season and so far there was no sign of a repeat of their former bad luck.
“We’re looking really good,” he said. “We’ve got a few new recruits who look like they’ll be quite handy. So we’ve adapted.”
“We’re working on a new game plan to try and suit the type of team that we have, and things are pretty good at the moment.”
2015 was not the Falcons’ year, with the league team finishing at the bottom of the ladder with only three wins to their name.
However, coach Greg Townsend, who led the club to premierships in 2010 and 2011, said they were ready for a turnaround after a disappointing few years.
“I’m pretty buoyant about our chances at the premiership this year,” he said.
“We’ve got a fairly young squad and we’re going through a bit of a transition as well. So it’s a bit of a different feel for the club this year.
“We’ve got a lot of senior players who have been for the club for quite some time and a pretty strong leadership group.
“But we’ve also welcomed in quite a few new faces this year which is good to have around.
“We’re pretty keen to improve on our previous position so we’ll be working hard.”
Dampier Sharks' Chris Wailu grabs the contested mark against Karratha Falcons last year.
Dampier Sharks’ Chris Wailu grabs a mark against the Kats.