Report: Jeff Stephenson
THEY’LL be no such thing as “second year blues” should Redland be given a reasonable run with injury as well as the run of the ball this North Easter AFL season.
Not if second-year coach Leigh Harding has his way anyway.
After the introduction of new structures and systems, a wealth of new players, a new game plan and new coaching staff there was a lot for the players to take on board in Leigh’s introductory year.
All these take time to digest.
Even now, 12 months down the track, things are still falling into place. But the education process is not nearly so demanding now as it was then.
Leigh has even taken to giving the players – well, the senior players – ownership of the systems.
“They had to learn a lot of different things last year so there hasn’t been the quite the same emphasis on game structures and the like this time,” Leigh said.
“The players have been given the opportunity to drive the program; take ownership of it.”
And he has been pleasantly surprised with the result.
“There’s been a great involvement from the group and I guess a lot of it has been pushed by the leadership guys, but that’s not to say others haven’t opened up.
“It was a big thing to put on them last year and the players were still working on things towards the back end of the year.
“There were times some were thinking ‘where am I – am I supposed to be here?’ And sometimes they just forgot to play.
“Now it’s their time.
“Time for them to play.”
The signs so far are good.
A solid win against Southport, a commendable loss against Aspley with a convincing victory against Labrador wedged between those two has been the sum of the pre-season matches.
Leigh is confident the work put in by the group, plus the optimistic signs shown in each of the three trials will translate to early season wins once the real stuff kicks off at Scottsdale Park on Saturday.
We were in a similar position last year, but things didn’t materialise as well as they might and an opening round loss to Canberra Demons set us back on our heels to a degree.
“There were times the players were doubting themselves after the Canberra defeat when we were really confident of winning and those early losses were really hard to get back,” Leigh said.
He’s hoping the reverse is the case this year.
We proved we had what it takes last season with a sensational victory against the eventual premier, Brisbane Lions as well as wins against Greater Western Sydney.
The idea this year will be to kick those types of results along and add some.
With most of last year’s team on board - Sam Michael and Soul Cormick are the major losses as the result of injury – the evolution of the game plan and the combined effect of strong team bonding over the last 12 months should be well to the fore.
This is a tight young group and game planning and processes are now becoming second nature.
The addition of Matt Hammelmann is a big plus after his three-year stint with Brisbane Lions and his presence will lend some authority to the attack and generate support to the hard-working, strong marking Jackson Paine.
Other newcomers expected to make their mark include Kailem Baker – you’ll learn to call him KJ as the season progresses – James Barnes, Brendan Telford and Sam Copland.
Luke O’Sullivan and Ryan Dadds will also be keen to strut their stuff after winning promotion to the senior list.
Then, of course, there is our biggest “recruit” of all.
Yes, former skipper Tom Salter is back after missing last year as the result of a knee reconstruction.
He’s been training the house down and has been the benchmark as far as our training programs have been concerned and “Salts” will be as keen as any of the newbies when the team runs out against Southport.
As Leigh said, this is a tight group.
Along with his support staff, Leigh has instilled a wonderful culture.
He is known universally for his man-management skills and the depth of that is evident.
He’s not out to make predictions, but there’s a confident feel underneath to suggest he’s looking to
the team taking several more steps from those they managed last season.
“It’s always a bit of an unknown at this time of the year, but you know you’ve done the work and you hope you’ve ticked every box.
“We’ve got a lot of youngsters on the list and that means there can be some inconsistency.
“There can be the highs in their performance followed by the lows and it’s our hope to reduce the line between the two – to close the gap.
“That can take time.”
But with the hard core of experienced players at the helm – think skipper Hayden Bertoli-Simmonds, classy Clay Cameron, the effervescent Aaron Christensen, along with Peter Yagmoor, Stephen Mills, Brad Howard and Jack Rolls – to mention but a few – the on-field power is well-equipped to help the youngsters in their development.
It’s a slick competition we’re in.
The preliminaries are now over.
The pre-season has been done and dusted.
The time is now upon us – the time to come out and play.