Hawks stay resolute
MANUNDA will attempt to overcome the loss of at least eight players to rival Cairns clubs this season against in-form defending AFL Cairns champions Saints in tonight's season opener at Cazalys.
Key trio Luke Powell (South Cairns), Glen Martin (Saints) and Willie Alick (Norths) are among those who will line up against their former club this season in switches that have gutted the core of the side and angered player-coach Clinton Gribble.
Filling the leadership void will be near-impossible for the Hawks, but Gribble thinks the club is in a better place than it was a year ago.
"We had 50-plus training and more than 100 people at the jumper presentation after the game. Compare that to last season; it was just 20-odd people hanging around," he said.
"I've put that (player loss) behind me and we're focused on where we're going."
Having upset Saints to win the premiership two seasons ago, the Hawks were thumped by 163 in their round one rematch to start their title defence.
The Hawks finished strongly to qualify for the grand final and push within 50 of Saints, who dominated the season."Obviously we hope that (big round one loss) doesn't happen again; we won't need any more motivation to put our head over the ball," Gribble said.
"I think teams will be surprised with our pace."
Saints will field another strong squad this season, headed by new co-captains pair Jesse Dixon and Craig Ferrier.
Fullback Ferrier joked that he would be happy to have another quiet season.
"The boys did such a good job up front that I didn't see much of the ball last year," he said.
Joining the club in 2007 from Victoria's Mt Pleasant Football Club, Ferrier has won three flags with Saints and watched the culture at Griffiths Park develop.
"When I first got here it was all party, but it's more of a family club now and I'm settled with two kids and not moving anywhere," he said.
"There is a core of six or seven that have been here that whole time and that has certainly contributed to our success."
He expected them to be strong, but not have it all their own way.
"We've been able to replace what we've lost, but teams like the Tigers will be strong this season."Saints v Manunda Hawks, 8pm tonight at Cazalys.