Season Previews - VFL Women's

Cranbourne 2016 season preview

THE Cranbourne Eagles enter the 2016 season relishing the renewed challenge of finding out how they measure up against Victoria’s best in the newly founded VFL Women’s competition.

As the 2015 VWFL Division 1 premiers, the Eagles will join Knox, Geelong and Seaford against last year’s Premier Division heavyweights when the new state competition kicks off on April 3.

Club captain Ash Fennell, who will be pulling on the blue and gold for a sixth season, says it is exciting times ahead for her team and women’s football in 2016.

“There’s a really big incentive for everybody now that women’s footy is going to be on the big stage,” Fennell said.

“We want to be able to compete which goes without saying and we’ve been stepping up our skills and our fitness to ensure we can match it with the best.”

Cranbourne has come a long way in the four years since they first fielded a senior women’s team.

The Eagles had only played in one Grand Final prior to 2015, capping off a meteoritic rise up the ladder from the bottom rungs in 2014 to the premiers the following year.

Club stalwart Keith Edwards, who was involved in Cranbourne’s Youth Girls side for six years, will be continuing in his role as assistant to Cranbourne senior coach Kris Smith.

Following their Grand Final victory over Knox last season, Edwards believes there is a heavier weight of expectation for the Eagles in 2016.

“The expectations from my point of view are fifty-fifty, that we win at least as many as we lose,” Edwards said.

“You don’t want to aim too high, but you’ve got to have a goal and it’s better to be positive than negative. If you go the same as last year you don’t improve.”

During the off-season, Cranbourne had six representatives selected as part of AFL Victoria Women’s Academy which saw more than 100 of Victoria’s best female players complete a detailed training program covering areas such as kicking, strength, conditioning and nutrition.

The group included Bianca Jakobsson, who last season combined with fellow Eagles Academy selection Hayley Wildes for 80 goals. The pair was joined by Danni Hardiman, Cara Moody and Tess McEvoy as part of the Academy, and will look to utilise the skills learnt over the summer for the upcoming season.

With strong academy talent filtering through the ranks, the opportunity for growth and continued improvement for the once fledgling side is ripe.

Director of Female Football, Marion Edwards, who has seen the progress Cranbourne has made over the last four seasons, believes it’s the players who are striving to improve and ensure they adapt to the higher of level of play.

“We did a longer pre-season than we’d ever done before because the girls were actually keener to get involved,” Edwards said.

“We normally don’t start back until February, but we started back in January because the girls said that they wanted more time and that they want to be fitter.”

Cranbourne will start its season on April 3 against fellow 2015 premiership team Darebin at A.H Capp Reserve.


Cranbourne Football and Netball Club

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Darebin 2016 season preview

Having won eight of the last 10 Premier Division titles in the VWFL, the Darebin Falcons are setting themselves for their next challenge of conquering the new VFL Women’s competition.

The establishment of the 10-team state league sets up a whole new playing field, with Darebin starting on the same base as their opponents. New season, new start.

“It’s always a new season,” Darebin’s new playing coach Jane Lange said.

“We start every year thinking what we can improve on from last year and what did we do well last year rather than thinking that we’re defending.”

The Falcons currently field eight AFL listed players including AFL Ambassador and Melbourne captain Daisy Pearce and had 16 players nominated for the AFL Victoria Women’s Academy.

“Whenever anyone gets the opportunity to step up and play seniors, it always has the promise of finding which of our players can step up more consistently – six of our Youth Girls are training with us as well as doing their own training,” Lange said.

“Besides, [the Academy players] going away and then coming back here with the skills that they have is just going to be a benefit in itself.”

New players from their 2015 Division 1 team and Youth Girls will bolster their line-up in 2016. Just as important is the extra professionalism brought by the appointment of James McConnell as Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Darebin’s on-field success is helped off field by the work of the Darebin Women’s Sports Club, where football joins soccer, cricket and 8 Ball sides as part of a larger organisation.

Recently appointed club president Aleisha Leonard said being an all-female club has advantages and disadvantages.

“It can often be more difficult for us to obtain the same level of sponsorship as female teams
who are associated with male teams or within male clubs,” Leonard said.

“Our club is run by its members for its members, so our committee has historically been largely made up of ex or current players.

“I believe like many other clubs, recruiting the volunteers required to help within all facets of running a multisport club is always challenging.”

One of the keys for the club is creating a football pathway, which will start at Auskick level.

“We’ve only ever had a Youth Girls team for twelve to eighteen year olds,” Leonard said.

“In the future we would like to grow a successful junior pathway program for girls of all ages in AFL as we have done in Soccer.

“This will begin with the launch of our girls only Auskick program in April. We’re hoping to get up an Under 10s, Under 12s, Under 14s and Under 16s team eventually and keep our Youth Girls for sixteen to eighteen year olds.”

Success and increased media promotion for female football has only created positives for Darebin in the off season. Having recently signed a three year sponsorship deal with Meridian Communication, the club recently installed new light towers that will enable them to train properly during the dark winter nights for the first time.

The City of Darebin Council is also set to acknowledge the clubs impact, featuring one of its players in an upcoming book.

“One of our senior AFL players Darcy Vescio is going to be in a book about up and coming Darebin sportswomen called ‘Women in Sport’,” says Leonard.

“It’s a really good story – Darcy first ran onto Etihad stadium in a Bulldogs jumper as part of the Auskick program she participated in with her brother in their home town of Wangaratta.

“Fast forward 12 years later she ran onto Etihad Stadium again but this time as a drafted Western Bulldogs player in the Exhibition Match.”

Darebin will start its season at home against Cranbourne, it the battle of the premiers in Premier Division and Division 1. 






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Diamond Creek 2016 season preview

Diamond Creek approach this season as a team both hunter and hunted, defending a successful legacy and looking to build onto a new level of success.

2016 senior coach Tanya Hetherington played 134 games for Diamond Creek before a knee injury in 2015 required a full reconstruction – but when one door closes, another opens. The injury gave her the chance to take on the senior coaching position of Australia’s biggest female football club.

Whilst emphasising the experience that is Diamond Creek’s strength, Hetherington says the main challenge she faces is renewing the goals for a side that has made seven consecutive finals series and now faces a new threat from the four new teams joining the state league.

“We’ve achieved great results but have just fallen short, so without changing too much my challenge to the girls is to change the way they think about the game,” Hetherington said.

“We’re going to be playing a different style of game, but to our strengths.”

Inevitably, much of the discussion about Diamond Creek and success focuses on their rivalry with Darebin. The two teams have played off in four consecutive Grand Finals with the glory of the Creekers’ 2012 victory being offset by three consecutive defeats. As a player in three of those four Grand Finals, the goal of becoming the undisputed best side in the new VFL Women’s competition burns just as fiercely in Hetherington as it does her players.

No one can argue they don’t have the players to be the best: Diamond Creek’s tally of 18 players in the AFL Victoria Women’s Academy was higher than any other team in the state league. Western Bulldogs and Diamond Creek captain Steph Chiocci is set to play her 150th match for Diamond Creek this season, and says the Creekers’ strong culture could be the key to long-term success.

“A lot of girls coming in have commented on how professional we’re becoming; that will hold us in good stead for the state league and then getting our girls drafted into the AFL,” Chiocci said.

Excitement at Diamond Creek during the pre-season has grown with the injection of new players. Chiocci says the commitment of ex-Kew player Stephanie Debortoli, Australian Ultimate Frisbee champion Michelle Phillips and former Australian cricketer Jess Cameron to their new club, particularly during the pre-season trip to Camp Wyuna in Queensland, has been fantastic.

“They’ve got a lot of experience at a professional level that they can bring across here,” Chiocci said.

“They’ve got really high standards which show in their training – they will be exciting to watch.”

Diamond Creek will open the season at home against fellow 2015 runner-up Knox, who were defeated in the Division 1 Grand Final by Cranbourne.




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Eastern Devils 2016 season preview

DISTINGUISHING the teams most likely to challenge for the newly developed state league crown is by no means an easy feat in pre-season.

But the surprise packet for season 2016 may well be the Eastern Devils; playing out of Mulgrave Reserve, the Devils boast a strong, fit playing list that started drawing attention last season, as well as a head coach well equipped to further develop the side.

Competing in the Premier Division last season, the Devils fell just short of a finals berth, but showed signs of major improvement over the course of the campaign. Now, the Devils are primed to launch themselves into finals discussion, and senior coach Brendan Major believes establishing their own brand of football is the key to getting there.

“We just try and work on the same things we did last year, we want to play our style of football against all the oppositions,” Major said.

“We don’t look at the scoreboard too much, we’ve come up with a game style that we think suits who we have, and we want those players to play their natural role within the team.”

Major also held a role with the AFL Victoria Women’s Academy (who the Devils had several players training with) over the pre-season, working with the strength and conditioning section, which he believes has helped his overall coaching abilities.

“I’m really lucky that I got to go and watch really great coaches and learn on field stuff,” Major said.

“You want to make your players think. You can put a cone out then they go through the motions, but if you can make a player think and work together that can be really valuable.”

The Devils aren’t without their fair share of superstar talent either. Meg Hutchins is regarded as one of the games very best, a five time all Australian with disposal efficiency as good as any in the game. The off-season recruitment of Pepa Randall will add to the Devils forward line, and is sure to add some spice to the Round 1 clash against Randall's former club St Kilda.

Aided and abetted by midfield guns Hannah Scott and Jamie Lambert, the Devils have the firepower needed to take that next step, according to assistant coach John McNamara.

“Last year they improved quite significantly from the beginning of the year to the end, I’m sure after just missing out on an opportunity to play in finals, they will think they are more than capable of reaching that goal this season,” McNamara said.

“I think we’ve got some very good midfielders - if they can continue to improve, we’ve also got a couple of really good forwards who could be quite dominant in the competition.”

Eastern Devils will host Premier Division finalist St Kilda in Round 1 at home.

By Michael Di Petta 

FACEBOOK: /Eastern Devils


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Geelong 2016 season preview

Geelong faces a challenging season in 2016.

The 2015 Division 1 finalists know it. In fact, senior coach Steve Janssen is even brave enough to candidly admit it.

“We’re not silly enough to think that we’re going to play finals,” Janssen said.

“But we really want to be competitive and play against the best and that’s the best way for us to learn.”

It is not to say the Magpies will be the VFL Women’s inaugural whipping team. Janssen, who is in his third season of coaching women’s football and fifteenth overall, points to their successful pre-season recruitment that has come on the back of the esteem of elevation to the new state league competition. Geelong may just surprise the teams who thought they had their measure from last season.

“Since we’ve come up to the state league, we’ve had people actually ringing us,” Janssen said.

“Taylah Gordon has come over from South Australia just wanting to play the highest standard of footy she can play. Geelong was the best choice for her – living in Geelong is heaps cheaper than living in Melbourne, so that was probably the difference for her.

“She’s fitted in really well and she looks quite good for us too.”

Geelong finished third in Division 1 in 2015 (under the name North Geelong, from which they have now distinguished themselves). Their combination of new talent and a hardened group of players who have been together for years could give them a leg-up in the new season. Captain and assistant coach Shannon Knox says that the competitive spirit of her playing group has been burning all throughout the pre-season.

“We had a practice match and we had a bit of a discussion in the huddle about what we want to achieve,” Knox said.

“We’re not going to go into any game thinking we’re going to lose; we’re going to give it all we’ve got.

“We’re a very, very determined group of individuals. We won’t go down without a fight at all. All of us are in this together and we’ll be in it until the end.”

Whilst success in 2016 will not come easy to Geelong – or, indeed, any of the four clubs rising from Division 1 to VFL Women’s – the pre-season recruitment of players from the Ballarat area will only bolster the foundation that the Magpies have been growing over the past seasons. The development of their Youth Girls is building the core of a future successful team.

Four of Geelong’s 2015 Youth Girls have reached the senior list for this season: expect to see Temikka Beeston, Cheryl and Lucy Degroot and Lily Mithen (who starred for Geelong /Western Jets in the recent Youth Girls Academy Challenge) playing in state league in the 2016 season. Jansen says their participation in senior football is not merely an indication of Geelong’s ability to develop juniors into talented players, but shows that the determination to succeed within his team’s culture: all four had the option of staying in Youth Girls but opted to challenge themselves by playing in the new VFL Women’s competition in 2016.

Geelong opens the season at home to VU Western Spurs.

By Callum O'Connor




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Knox 2016 season preview

Kicking more goals than your opponent in a Grand Final will normally see you celebrating a premiership at games end. It was not the case for Knox last year.

After winning five games on end to finish fourth in Division 1, the Falcons swept through the finals with wins over North Geelong and Seaford to earn an unexpected Grand Final berth against Cranbourne. Despite scoring less goals than Knox, the Eagles prevailed by a single point, spoiling in the most heartbreaking way possible what would have been an incredible fairy-tale season.

In any other year Knox would have nothing but revenge on their mind. However, their promotion to the new state league has given them cause to readjust their sights.

Mel Kuys, entering her third season in the Knox colours and coming off a pre-season as part of the  AFL Victoria Women’s Academy alongside El Downey and Chanelle Slater, says the players are first and foremost looking to adjust to the higher standard.

“Improving is going to be our biggest thing,” Kuys stated.

“After every game, we’ll really have a look at what we did right, what we did wrong.”

Kuys and her fellow Knox players will be entering the season with a new coach at the helm in Clint Martin. Martin, who has previous coaching experience at Kilsyth, says he is relishing the opportunity to coach female football for the first time. Adam Moon, Martin’s assistant at Kilsyth, will be Knox’s dedicated development coach in the 2016 season.

“I’ve already had feedback from the girls and they’ve reported back that they’ve seen marked improvement in their own fitness and also enjoyment of the drills during pre-season training,” Martin said.

“They’re looking forward to moving up into the state league, which is going to be a bit of a challenge, but I think that this year the girls are going to rise to the occasion and move forward.

“There’s a couple of new things that I’ve put in there this year and hopefully it’s going to make a bit of a difference.”

“If we can make our mark as Knox and the girls make some new experiences, I’ll be happy with that,”

“I think we’ll be knocking on the finals door.”

Perhaps on the back of the extra authority that has come with entering the state league, Knox has been bolstered by recruitment during the pre-season. Martin estimates that he currently has more than enough players for two teams. This has allowed the club to put a keen emphasis on developing their strong Youth Girls team into potential senior players.

Knox will face Diamond Creek away in Round 1.


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Melbourne Uni 2016 season preview

ONE could forgive Melbourne University if there was a heightened sense of expectation around season 2016. Moving into the newly formed VFL Women’s state league, supporters have plenty to be confident about. 

Finalists in last seasons campaign, the side fell agonizingly short of reaching the Premier Division Grand Final, losing by a solitary point to eventual runners up, Diamond Creek. 

Even more promisingly, Melbourne University’s Youth Girls side went one better, and finished the season as champions. 

Indeed, Melbourne University presents an excellent resume, and ought to be considered dangerous. But the focus internally remains firmly on development, and the club has made it clear; even though the side may be title contenders, they will not chase wins if results harm player improvement.

“We never judge ourselves on win loss ratios,” senior coach Andrew Jago said.

“I come from a development background, and we will set our goals based around development again. 

“We create indicators that we think are relevant to our girls and we will continue to measure them throughout the season, and see if they are improving.

“Obviously if that all works out, that tends to lead to good results on the ground as well, but we tend to judge ourselves on improvement criteria rather than a win loss ratio.”

It’s no secret that Melbourne University’s ace up the sleeve is their elite Youth Girls outfit, which is in position to feed talent through to senior sides over the coming years. But the club has vowed not to stunt the growth of potential future stars by throwing them in the deep end too early. 

“Most of them (the reigning premier Youth Girls side) are still available to play Youth Girls, and we will encourage them to do so up until the National Carnival,” Jago said. 

“After that, we will have a look and see what best develops them individually, whether that is playing a couple of senior games or continuing to play Youth Girls. 

“If we need to bring them in, then we will, but only if it’s beneficial for them. If it’s just about winning and losing, and I know people struggle with the concept, then we wont, because we seriously don’t look at that.” 

Youth Girls who may receive senior call-ups include Izzy Huntington, known for her excellent contested marking ability, defender-cum-forward Prue Cordes, and Monique Conti, who’s first step is “as good as you’ll see at Youth Girls level”, according to coach Jago. 

With the weapons at their disposal, Melbourne University have the opportunity to build upon the success they had in 2015, and star winger Kaitlyn Ashmore knows that the team can continue to play at a high level. 

“I think it’s come to that time of the pre-season everyone wants to come out and have a go. We are a young group, and we are still trying to find our feet but we do want to be playing finals again this year, and I think we are able to get there,” Ashmore said. 

The speedy Ashmore is certainly one to watch heading into season 2016, after recording the best agility time at the AFL Victoria Women’s Academy trials, as well as second best efforts in 2km and 20 metre sprint categories. 

Ashmore, who won the club’s best and fairest last season, attributes her success to the appointment of coach Andrew Jago, who she believes can take the side to a new level in the state league. 

“I love Andrew, he has changed me personally, and he’s changed everything about my game. I was a half-back before he came, and I’ve improved out of sight. He seems to connect really well with us, and I think we will only get better.” 

Melbourne Uni host Seaford in Round 1 at home.


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Seaford 2016 season preview

As one of the four clubs who are taking the huge leap from Division 1 to the new VFL Women’s competition in 2016, the Seaford Tigers are meeting the challenges of the unknown head on.

“It’s going to be a whole different dynamic, a whole new level of professionalism and more commitment will have to be shown from the girls so we compete against the other teams,” Kate Thompson said, entering her fourth season as a Tiger.

“I think everyone now has the mindset that we’ve got to move up in our commitment to the year ahead and a lot of the girls have hit the gym on their off day.

“We are much more fitter than in previous years.”

New senior coach Brett Alexander says he was quick to notice the commitment, determination and enthusiasm of the playing group after being welcomed aboard in December of last year.

“There’s a really positive vibe about them,” Alexander, who has been running an AFL Girls’ program at Hallam College for the last six years, said.

 “I just loved coming to training because I know what I’m going to get.

“I don’t want them purely worrying about running up and down the ground doing conditioning work, so we’ve been incorporating the fitness component and the skill component at the same time.

“Ultimately you have to have a fitness base but you have to be able to use the ball as well.”

A former coach at Bon Beach and the Dandenong Stingrays, Alexander has secured the services of club physio Adam Godfrey and support staff Dave Sheldon and David Baguley in order to improve his players’ conditioning and recovery.

“We’re making sure the girls get the chance to become more professional in their approach to recovery,” he said.

Seaford is also keeping some aces up their sleeve for their future with some exceptional junior development. Their Under 17 side is yet to lose a match since they first played in the Frankston District Junior Football League two years ago and currently boasts the 2015 FDJFL Best & Fairest winner in Tiara Annear as well as the leading goal kicker Carly Bury.

The 2016 season is likely to be a test for Seaford, but the key driver is to be competitive.

“No matter what we do, when we hit the ground we have to be competitive and learn from every game,” Alexander said.

“So if the girls can look back at where they were in the pre-season to the end of the season and have improved both on an individual level and a team level, I’ll be really happy with that.”

Seaford faces Melbourne Uni away in Round 1.

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St Kilda 2016 season preview

With a new coach and a new major sponsor, there’s excitement in the air at the St Kilda Sharks.

Former Melbourne player and Cranbourne coach Shaun Smith was officially announced as the new Sharks coach for 2016 in November.

Smith, who played 109 VFL/AFL games between 1987 and 1998, made special mention of the strong leadership at the Sharks, referencing the on field leadership of 2015 captains Phoebe McWilliams and Sarah Chapman and the off field structure provided by president Keryn Ralph.

St Kilda has made the finals two years in a row without claiming a win – the aim for 2016 is to take the next step enroute to winning a premiership.

“It’s nice to have fresh eyes on the current playing list,” McWilliams said, who played in the AFL Exhibition match for the Western Bulldogs last season and in March.

“We were training three nights a week in the lead up to Christmas, which is a pretty heavy workload, and the improvement over the last two months has been good.”

The Sharks boast four players who played in the AFL Exhibition matches last season ( McWiliams and Moana Hope both Western Bulldogs plus Jenna Bruton and old Brittany Bonnici both Melbourne), however Ralph has been quick to laud the potential of new recruit Meg Downie.

“Meg played a couple of games last year but she’ll be playing a full season this year. She’s a former state player so she’s looking pretty fit at the moment,” Ralph said.

“Also Alex Whitehead, she played two years ago with us and was a standout in our Reserves’ Grand Final. She’s got a great fitness base and a really good head on her shoulders and I think she’ll really step up into a senior role this year.”
The major development of securing the sponsorship of Jayco, Australia’s biggest caravan and trailer business, for the 2016 season has been a huge coup for the Sharks. Annette Arzoumanian, St Kilda’s 2015 Division 1 coach and the assistant coach of their VFL Women’s side this season, commented on the apt timing of securing such a big name sponsor with women’s football on the rise.

“In terms of wanting to move forward in professionalism, it’s a pretty big deal for us to get a well-known deal out there but particularly for Gerry [Ryan, Head of Marketing at Jayco] who was the guy that basically agreed to it,” Arzoumanian said.

“He’s a St Kilda supporter, so that’s how we positioned it.

“Jayco are competing on the global market so we saw that natural alignment to be there. Certainly we think it’s a fantastic alignment: we’re making sure we’re pushing the brand to our stakeholders and similarly their financial support enables us to do things that previously we couldn’t do.”

St Kilda will face Eastern Devils in Round 1 away from home.

By Callum O'Connor



FACEBOOK: /StKildaSharks
TWITTER: @stkwfc

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VU Western Spurs 2016 season preview

A new look VU Western Spurs will enter the VFL Women’s competition in 2016, with wholesale pre-season changes sweeping the club.

Rebranding, a huge arrival of new players, a new home at the Henry Turner Reserve and new specialist coaches have all been engineered at the club formerly known as St Albans. The club needs no further motivation than their 2015 stats – no wins, a percentage of less than 13 and finishing “holding the ladder up”, as their state league coach Debbie Lee dryly puts it.

“We’ve built on from last season and the big thing that we’re going to do is continue to build on our defence,” Lee said, entering her second season at the helm of the Spurs.

“We’ve got to win games. If we’re in the state league we’ve got to be respectful of that.”

The Spurs reaped the benefits of being the only VFLM Women’s side from the west during January’s AFL Talent Search, which gave female athletes from different sporting codes the opportunity of playing women’s football at the highest level.

Close to half of the list is comprised of new players, with basketballers like Jess Franke and Alyssa Mifsud from Victoria University joining the club, and transitioning well.

“There’s some great talent that has come through,” Lee said.

“We’ve got Jess Francke who’s a basketballer, she’s tall, she can grab the footy really well.

“We’ve got Ash Gunn, another basketballer, she attended the AFL Talent search and as a result was extended an invitation to the [AFL Victoria Women’s] Academy.

“We’re really excited about the season, we think that with the combination of the new girls and the old girls we’re going to be more competitive than last year.”

In order to shape the values, ethos and attitude of the Spurs leading into the VFL Women’s maiden season, the playing group embarked on a pre-season camp in mid-February.

“With our partnership with the Western Bulldogs and Victoria University, we spent the morning at VU to do some testing with their sports people and also doing some theory,” Lee said.

“Then we moved down to the Bulldogs for an intra-club match.”

The Spurs have two aces up their sleeve in their ongoing partnerships with both the Western Bulldogs and Victoria University. Back in May of last season, Bulldog defender Jordan Roughead was officially signed as the Spurs’ Assistant Coach, a role that has expanded to midfield and ruck coach in 2016. The Spurs have also been able to utilise the Bulldogs’ facilities and staff as well as marketing themselves into a ready-made membership base.

Roughead isn’t the only marquee name in the Spurs’ brains trust: Sam Smits is the 2016 backline coach while Coburg ruckman Ben Sortino will be bringing four years of VFL experience as the Spurs’ forward line coach. Sortino says he’ll be working with his players towards long-term areas of improvement.

“It’ll be about teaching the girls about structure,” Sortino said.

“We want them to understand exactly what our game plan is. We want them to be in sync with our backs, with our midfielders in knowing, ‘This is where I need to be, this is what I need to do.’ Then everything else will fall into place.”

The Spurs will head to Geelong in Round 1.



FACEBOOK: /WesternSpurs
TWITTER: @vwflspurs

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VFL 2017 Ladder

Peter Jackson VFL 2017
1 Williamstown 56
2 Box Hill Hawks 54
3 Port Melbourne 50
4 Casey Demons 48
5 Richmond 44
6 Essendon 40
7 Footscray 40
8 Collingwood 32
9 Northern Blues 32
10 Geelong 32
11 Sandringham 32
12 Werribee 32
13 Coburg 8
14 North Ballarat 4