Excitement Building Ahead Of Season Under New Coach

Tuesday, January 30, 2018 - 4:05 PM

NEW Swan Districts coach Adam Pickering likes the look of his squad entering his first season as a WAFL senior coach with the blend of a strong core group, some emerging youngsters, the recruitment of Rhys Palmer and also those returning from injury.

Pickering is preparing for his first WAFL season as senior coach and coming into February with the end of pre-season on the horizon and games within reaching distance, he likes what he is seeing from the black-and-whites on the training track.

Swans are coming off a strong 2017 season where they returned to finals action and won an elimination final over West Perth before being eliminated by South Fremantle in the first semi-final.

While some experience did depart following that in the form of Tallan Ames, Ryan Crowley and Jamie Bennell, the players who had the biggest impact on their resurgence are back again in 2018 topped up with some exciting young players and 123-game AFL veteran Palmer.

With a core including Matt Riggio, Adam Faulkner, David Ellard, Corey Gault, Kirk Ugle, Alex Howard, Tony Notte and Todd Banfield to build around, Pickering was always excited by the potential in this Swans group and that has only grown the longer pre-season has gone.

"There's a real, good core nucleus of about 10 to 12 bona fide league players, and there might even be more," Pickering said.

"Then we have some really exciting kids coming through who are in that 18 to 21-year-old age group who are really exciting like both Watson boys, Noble, Stewart, Jesse Turner and even Power who hasn’t played league footy yet. 

"Levi Ridley has really had a good summer too and he's dedicated himself. If we can find another 10 per cent in natural growth from guys like that which I've seen already in them, then they will be important to support that top dozen or so players we have with Rhys added as well. 

"There might be some ups and downs with youth as there always is, but the talent we see here daily is pretty exciting."

While Swans were happy to back in their core group of retained players and the young talent coming through, there's no doubt the signing of Palmer was a significant bonus after his time in the AFL at Fremantle, the GWS Giants and Carlton.

Pickering couldn’t have been more impressed by what he's seeing from the 28-year-old already both in terms of performance but also his attitude.

"Rhys has been really good, not just with the way he trains after being in the system for 10 years and playing 120 games so you expect his training standards to be right up there and that's showing already," he said.

"But it's not just that. His voice around the boys has been great and he is grabbing young boys to do extra on off nights and pre-training so he has been really positive around the group. 

"He is a naturally really positive guy and he feels good about what he sees here with our program and playing group. I think he will have a big influence for us not just on the field, but off it too."

Palmer is now entering his fourth week of pre-season training since signing with Swan Districts and Pickering is looking forward to making the most of his presence both in what he adds on the field, but in helping to teach and develop the youngsters around him.

"His body is in pretty good shape and I don’t think he had any injuries last year, and he still covers the ground really well even after only being with us for a few weeks now," Pickering said.

"He is an elite runner when he's up and going but like anyone coming out of the AFL system, the challenge is the mental side of it and keeping yourself motivated. But when you've been in the system for 10 years and played 120 games, you are pretty strong mentally and hopefully he sticks around for a while."

While Swans didn’t actively go out on a recruiting spree coming into 2018, Pickering likes the new additions there will be to the group in the upcoming season both in terms of emerging young players and those returning from injuries like Matthew Rogers.

"We haven’t really recruited anyone as such even though we have some guys who have missed out from other clubs and we have some who have come up from the amateurs and a handful of colts kids," he said.

"There's a few colts kids I think will play league footy this year which is a real positive for the footy club, but aside from Rhys we haven’t actively gone out to sign any big-name recruits.

"Rogers has had a super pre-season actually. I've known Matt since my Perth days when I was coaching there and from day one he's been super impressive. 

"He missed that chunk of last season so he wanted to get his teeth stuck into pre-season and he's now a 100-game WAFL player so he's a bona fide league footballer and is almost like a new recruit given the amount he missed in the back half of last year."

A month now into training post-Christmas after some hard work to finish off 2017 means that Pickering is finding himself just looking forward to playing some games again. 

He's sure the players feel the same too but he has been happy with the work put in by the group over the pre-season as well.

"This is a challenging period of the year because as players they have been working hard for two months pre-Christmas getting fit and they get to Christmas and the end is near and they get a break," Pickering said. 

"But then they come back in January and the season doesn’t start until the end of March so it's a tough period to keep them on the ball. You have to keep throwing new things at them to keep them engaged and it's a difficult period because you just want to start playing, but you can't just yet.

"It's starting to get really close now. We have had a couple of match practices at training with umpires, going through structural stuff and game styles so it's not too far away. We will play an intra-club on February 22 on a Thursday night so that's only three weeks away now."

By Chris Pike.