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FARRER FILES: NORTH WAGGA SAINTS

It was a matter of so close for North Wagga this year but the club is already looking to take that next step for season 2016.

NORTH WAGGA 2015 Result: 3rd (finished 3rd on ladder, and knocked out in preliminary final)

Home & Away: 10 wins; 6 losses

Finals Form: Lost qualifying final to TRYC,  Won minor semi-final against Coleambally,  Lost preliminary final to EWK

Best & Fairest: Jeremy Luff

Rising Star: Angus McCrea

Snapshot:

After a slower than expected start to the year, the Saints finished up proving (to themselves as much as anyone else) that they were a genuine top three team.

They did have a bit of a lapse late in the season too but came good in time for the finals, with a good win over Coleambally sandwiched between credit-worthy efforts against The Rock and East Wagga.

The new coaching duo of Chad Hamblin and Nathan Dowdle continued the development of their young list before announcing late in the season that they would step aside in 2016 and handed the reins to Kirk Hamblin.

It’s a smooth transition for North Wagga and the new coach has big plans, with some key recruits to add more experience to a young but exciting list. The departure of ruckman Jeremy Luff to Lavington will be a big blow but his absence won’t be as keenly felt as it might have been given that Ned Mortimer and Ryan Dean are joining the club, along with Canberra pair Lachie Highfield and Alex Grozinger.

Highlights:

There were some big individual performances for North Wagga to be proud of, including Corey Watt’s Gerald Clear Medal and Kirk Hamblin winning the Farrer League’s Player of the Year award (voted on by the competing coaches each week). But both were upstaged within their own club when Luff took out North Wagga’s best and fairest. The trio gave Saints their impetus almost every week. Luff’s mobility and work ethic, Hamblin’s effort and commitment and Watt’s pace on the outside could be a deadly combination when they got it right.

But Hamblin’s highlight was seeing the ongoing development of the young players on their list who he hopes will help take the club forward next year.“It was a pretty successful year,” Hamblin said. “One of the positives was getting game time into our young guys and playing three finals and getting to win a final.”There was also the memorable effort against Marrar in the last round – a virtual final - which earned North Wagga a second chance in the playoffs, and confirmed that they had officially arrived as a top three team.Then the finals experience was invaluable, even in the losses to East Wagga-Kooringal and The Rock-Yerong Creek when the Saints took the game to their grand-final-bound. It was no consolation to North Wagga but the Hawks and the Magpies derived plenty of benefit out of the finals against the Saints. Both David Pieper and Gavin McMahon said in the week that followed their games that their young opponents had brought finals intensity and made their own players realise what level they needed to get to.

And the win over Coleambally was a vote of confidence in their style of footy, and showed they were learning to step up when it counted – as they snuffed out a potential Blues comeback with conviction.

Lowlights:

Inconsistency – within games and within the season – remained a worry for the coaches. By mid-season Nathan Dowdle was prepared to admit that it had taken the team a lot longer to get into their stride than he’d have liked to see.  At that stage, he was confident they were on track, only for a late-season slump to hit, which threatened to undo all their good work. That disappointed the incoming coach.“For me, the second half of the year – our inconsistency when we should have been hitting our straps,”

Kirk said.“We lost games to Temora and the Jets, but the positive was we were able to turn it around at the end to hit finals. “The other thing that was disappointing was that we never really pushed the top two teams.  We were able to for a quarter or two, but we didn’t put in a full four-quarter performance against either of them. ” There was also the loss of Watt to a knee injury for the preliminary final against the Hawks which robbed them of their drive out of the middle.  On the back of an ankle injury that saw Mitch Mullins play only a little of the first final, the disruption to their midfield made life tough.

Surprise Packet:

In a young side, there were plenty of players to catch the eye at different times. And Corey Watt’s coming of age to win a league medal was an achievement to behold. He and a key man in the backline came to mind for Hamblin as the improvers who really stood out.“Just progressively throughout the year, Troy Curtis really stood up for us as a leader.  And Corey really got better and better with every game.”

Areas to improve:

Consistency is the obvious area, as well as execution which was still letting the Saints down on occasion in the big games.But Hamblin said his main objective is to build on what his players learnt this year. “Probably just continue the development of our players,” he said. “And we definitely want to play an attacking brand of football.  Against the better teams last year we struggled for a winning score. ”Recruitment of the right players will help bring that scoreboard pressure, but their experience should also counter the team’s sometimes poor decision making under pressure. Ned Mortimer, still only mid-20s and out of the game for three seasons, will help. “I’m expecting him to be a bit of a leader, to bring in that valuable grand final experience from 08 (at Collingullie),” Hamblin said.“It’s definitely what we lacked.  We’ve got a handful of experienced senior blokes, but overall we’re very young so that’s what we’ve been looking for in our recruiting is blokes with a bit of experience and he’s certainly got that.” Mortimer’s good mate Ryan Dean has made the move from RFL benchmark Collingullie while Lachie Highfield (ex-Ainslie) has NEAFL experience with the Canberra club, and his mate Alex Grozinger has considerable experience in the AFL Canberra competition. But replacing the contribution of Luff in the ruck will be another area of concern for North.

What to look forward to:

Those key signings could make a huge difference to a team that thrives on confidence, and there’s also the expected return of Nathan Dowdle. Having missed a whole season, the gun midfielder will be like another recruit. And in a side that has gained the Hamblins since he last played, Dowdle could just thrive on playing in a team with a bit more depth and experience around him. Hamblin too is looking forward to playing in a team with a deeper list. “I’ll be looking forward to greater midfield depth, it’ll open up a lot of avenues,” Hamblin said. “And blokes we’ve recruited with the ability to kick goals, it should help us kick a winning score.” The Canberra pair will be met with great expectation, and how Highfield’s NEAFL experience translates to the Farrer League will be eagerly anticipated. And seeing Ned Mortimer back on an Australian rules ground is something to look forward to.  The accomplished footballer said, despite a season off sport following a two year stint playing rugby league, he’s banking on a big fitness campaign to be right to go. “I’m really excited to get in and get as fit and strong as I can so I can try to compete,” Mortimer said. “If you get a good solid pre-season under your belt specific to the sport, after a few practice games you get into the swing of things. ”An honorary local living on the north side of the river, Mortimer claims the Black Swan and Palm and Pawn as his locals.  And his thoughts on his new club are likely to give everyone in both pubs plenty to look forward to. “I hope to do something special with the Saints next year.”

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