A new season, five new coaches and new approaches. But how are Bell Park, St Albans, Newtown, Lara and Colac really faring after the opening round of the GFL season? In today’s first edition of the two-part series on the new leadership, we look at the Dragons and the Tigers.
Sometimes a re-assessment and some outsider’s eyes is all you need to get back on track, and it is certainly what Bell Park are hoping for in season 2017. By no means has Luke Rayner inherited a sinking ship; beaten elimination finalists in 2016, but it is a team that requires some tweaking. The Dragons have been one of the more consistent teams in the GFL, booking a finals berth almost every season since the turn of the century. But guaranteeing a top 4 isn’t quite cutting the mustard (just ask Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger), and the Dragons hope Rayner can be their man. He becomes the first outsider to coach the club since the long running stability of John Fitzgerald (2007-11) and the Tim Sheringham-Ben Armstrong succession combination (2012-16), and wasted no time changing things up. A review was hastily organised in the post-season, and it and Rayner’s new eyes see the Bell Park of 2017 not the dogged, defensively strong team of past years, but a slick moving and polished attacking outfit. Doing that without 2-time Mathieson Medallist Stephen Paulke is a tough ask, and if the heavy 40-point round 1 defeat against St Joseph’s is anything to go by, it will only get tougher. But this is a club the prides itself on consistency, and with the inclusions of Sam Bouwman and Kristian Bucovas on-field, plus Rayner’s assistants Ross Dillon and Dean Talbot off field, and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone who thinks the Dragons will be outside the top five come round 18.
Kane Leersen takes over as coach at an interesting time at the Colac football club. Following the departure of maiden Premiership coach Paul Lynch to Ocean Grove, Leerson inherits a young team, but that is something the Tigers are not unaccustomed to. He has an essential blank canvas to work with following the departures of bookends Jake Carmody and the Smartt brothers, and Joe Dare back to Cobden. However, the breach up forward has seemingly been filled, with Dean Felekos snaring 7 goals in the 100-point battering of Lara in round one. The veteran had never kicked more than 17 in a season since he bagged 25 in 2007, yet he helped himself to a big bag against the Cats. It is on the youthful side of things however where Leersen hopes to build the next fulcrum of talent. Known for their development of junior players and keeping them away from the closer proximities of the CDFL, Colac have retained twelve players from last years under 18s- to supplement the young talent that is already at the club. Players like George Steven, Lockey McCarthy, Tyler Murnane, Leigh Gorwell, Tom Rieniets and 22-year Birregurra premiership captain Jack Melican are already part of the youthful group up the highway, and will look to form a presence in years to come. Another winnable game awaits against North Shore next round, and if they turn after Easter with half their games up the highway at 2-0, could the Tigers push for a finals berth?