By Matt Fotia
It’s a new and improved Belgrave in 2020 with both sides of the club working hard over the off-season to improve the talent pool ahead of another Division One campaign.
Nathan Johns’ first year at Belgrave was a difficult one. The Magpies won just two games across the year and at times conceded large scores both home and away.
This year looks to be a different kettle of fish, with Johns having a running start at the pre-season, improving everything from the list to the training facilities, with the Magpies getting to work at Holm Park in Beaconsfield.
“Not really much thinking behind it in terms of a tactical thing, it’s just purely that we can’t get on our ground during the summer and our pre-season last year we didn’t have goal posts to practice with straight away,”
“So I asked a few questions with my local council and was able to lock in Holm Park Oval Number Three for the whole summer and look it’s a bit of travel for some of the boys, but all in all it’s been a good pre-season and we’ve been able to focus on the areas we need to improve on.”
Johns and his backroom crew’s post mortem following the 2019 season found that if they wanted to upgrade their system, they were going to have to upgrade their squad.
“Going into the summer we needed to recruit and we’ve been able to land 14-15 blokes and from that bunch I’d say about eight will walk into my best 13-14 and that creates depth in the club,”
“Our depth isn’t perfect, but what we’ve been able to focus on over the summer – and we are really happy about it – is our contest work, ball movement around the ground and our forward half synergy.”
It’s an impressive list of ins for the Magpies in 2020, all coming from different corners of the footballing landscape.
Jaie Roberts and Jarrod O’Neill have come across from the Doveton Eagles, St Kilda City trio Josiah Laakulu, Nathan Dawson, Leon Materiki have signed, whilst Blair Smith (Garfield), Matthew Young (South Belgrave), Tom Davis (Ormond), Robbie Bertalli (King Valley), Lachlan Harris (St Paul’s McKinnons), Cameron McConachy (Northvale), James Lawton (Beechworth), Alexander Wheeler (Canterbury), Jordan Toole (Returning) and Mykleti Lefau (Casey) make up the full list on inclusions.
All those names will help the club in 2020, but a few have Johns salivating at the thought of them in black and white.
“We wanted to let people know that we weren’t going to just sit on what we did last year, we want to show people that we were going to keep moving forward and look to take the next step,”
“Mykleti Lefau comes down from Casey for a handful of games this year, he’ll be one the hardest players in the competition to match up as a six foot six, 96 kilogram operator with great speed – his physical attributes are incredible,”
“Alex Wheeler has arrived from Canterbury where he’d been for two years and before that he played all his football up in the Ovens and Murray – at 32 years of age he’s a very good inside midfielder who’s come on board as a playing assistant coach – he’ll add a wealth of knowledge,”
“We’ve also landed Jarrod O’Neill from the Doveton Eagles who’s loving the change and fitting in really well, Jordan Toole is back to the club after a year off, refreshed and ready to go and we’ve got Blair Smith from Garfield who’ll play as a versatile defender.”
With a fully stocked brigade to lead into battle Johns is excited about the path that Belgrave are on, as they enter the second year under his tutelage.
“We have a plan in place, the first year was all about understanding the system and also each other, the second year we want to be around the finals mark, which I think we definitely can be this year and the third year you want to see yourselves as a genuine contender,”
“For 2020 though, between now and round one, it’s all about fine tuning what we’re doing, getting an understanding and making sure our team chemistry is right.”
Matthew Weaver came into the role of Belgrave Netball Coach in 2019, following the Magpies strong 2018 performance, where they reached the AFL Yarra Ranges A Grade Grand Final.
With the club dropping into the middle tier of the AFL Outer East competition, it seemed to the untrained eye that they would be destined for a strong run once again. But a mass exodus of their top end players saw the club finish second bottom on the ladder, something Weaver believes is a bit misleading.
“Last season we didn’t retain a single player from the 2018 side, so it was a complete rebuild of the top two teams, with a lot of changes, so it (the ladder) wasn’t an accurate representation but I was happy with the way things were starting to gel at the back end of the season, which has set up a good foundation for this season.”
Like their football department, recruiting has been a key driver in kickstarting their new campaign, with Weaver’s side getting stronger this season thanks to VNL stars Sarah McCabe and Kassidy Withers joining the club.
“We’re pretty happy with everything, a little disappointed that we haven’t got our juniors up and running, but from a senior point of view we are very happy,”
“The recruits that we’ve bought in have certainly helped us in the positions that we struggled in last season, they’re key position players that we just didn’t have last year, so they’ll definitely strengthen us and I’d like to think that we can push into that finals position that we missed out on on 2019.”
Weaver is confident that his side will be improved in 2020 and is going into the season under the assumption that all of their Division One opponents will be around the mark as well.
“I don’t have any real read on the new sides into the division, because I didn’t take much notice of them last year, and its one of those things where it’s not based on their netball results and so much can change in a summer,”
“So you’ve just got to take everyone on face value and you’ve got to assume that everyone will be competitive,”
“I’ve got a really good group of girls, the club is very very supportive of netball and this year is all about continuing to strengthen those bonds and building around that.”