“Hey Coach – how do you reckon we’ll go this season?”
“Well skipper, I reckon we’ll go through the season tasting defeat, maybe once in the twos but that’s about it. Both sides will finish with a percentage well over 200 and both will win the flag pretty comfortably. And we’ll win the respect of the competition for our toughness at the ball, our skill when we have it, and the general standard of our game...”
If you’d heard that conversation (if indeed it ever occurred), you’d have been forgiven for thinking the participants were quite mad. However, that’s exactly what happened last season at the Colts.
So how do you top a season where (almost) everything goes according to the script?
Well, Port will fancy their chances of establishing themselves as a power in Division 1. The two previous Division 2 premiers have gone deep into September at the first time of asking, and the Port boys hit the top league off the back of an even more dominant season than their predecessors, and with arguably greater depth to boot.
They have had to cope with the loss of premiership coach Brad Julier, who has left to work with Steve Kidd at Caulfield, but in Jason Clarke they have found a more than capable and experienced replacement.
In the words of assistant Gareth Daley: “Jason’s passion and enthusiasm for the game hasn’t changed for his time off. He’s brought an A-grade experience – he’s never coached in a B-grade competition. It’s a huge benefit for a very young list, and the boys have bought into that”.
Port haven’t sat on their hands during the off-season, nor have they overdone the celebrations after last season’s exploits. Daley states: “We know it’s a big step up from second division, but we’ve been very fortunate to retain 90% of our list, and also very lucky to recruit almost a dozen blokes in a certain age bracket.”
This recruitment has seen the club scouting right across the country, and has been aimed not at specific positions, but at creating sustained success. “It’s more about strengthening our depth and getting 35-40 senior players up for selection every Thursday,” Daley said.
The Colts playing group are charged with a similar level of enthusiasm. Jake Wood reflects that the club is ready for the challenges that await: “Most of our team still remember playing first division over in the west (WRFL). We don’t see ourselves as a Division 2 club – we wanted to be back at the top”.
Will Cardwell confirms this optimism: “it’s been a solid amount of blokes – 40 on the track most weeks. It’s probably one of our best pre-season efforts over the last five years”.
The task that Port carries with it this season comes from being one of the most watched clubs in the league. All league watchers keenly await their Division 1 debut against local rivals St Kilda City to see whether the hype can be believed. Port have the tools to win more games than they lose. We should know fairly early how they’ll adapt to the top level.