PUT a few more battled hardened seasons into North Ballarat Roosters and the club could be playing Victorian Football League finals again.
This Sunday is the pinnacle of the VFL, a flag up for grabs between Melbourne-aligned Casey Scorpions and Western Bulldogs arm Footscray at Etihad Stadium where six years ago the Roosters held the cup aloft.
This season was tough for the Roosters, the first without an AFL partner in more than a decade and boasting the youngest list in the VFL. But it was just a beginning.
There are distinct advantages to being a standalone VFL club and Williamstown is the benchmark right now. While the Seagulls bowed out in last week’s VFL preliminary final, they captured the flag last year.
Traditional heavyweights Port Melbourne have been strong the past decade.
The key to standalone strength? A wealth of mature players, who have been playing the VFL game a long time. Whole squads train together, all the time, rather than in separate AFL and VFL lists.
They control their destiny without worrying about AFL list decisions.
Roosters coach Marc Grieg, a triple VFL premiership defender, has been in this game a long time. He knows the fundamentals to get to the VFL’s top, even though the Roosters must now take a standalone path.
And the Roosters are making a start.
They had mature, experienced bodies this season in Lachie George, Andrew Hooper and four-time VFL premiership player Orren Stephenson. Defender Oli Tate returned mid-season from state league football in Western Australia. These players have far more experience than the bulk of AFL-listed players in VFL ranks – the Roosters just did not have enough experience on the park at once.
The next tier started really stepping up: James Keeble, Tony Lockyer and 2015 VFL best and fairest Nick Rippon.
Greig says he does not want to build a team loaded with young guns, or heavy with seasoned VFL stars. The Roosters would primarily continue to source from players with good, solid senior footy experience about the region, player keen to take their game to the next level.
It is all part of the adjustment to standalone thinking and building.
“Even the way we train, we’ve learnt so much as coaches,” Greig told Press Box. “…It’s about smarter and wiser time use.”
This includes, incorporating weight sessions in group training nights, rather than on off nights to allow players’ bodies rest. This is how other standalones train.
It also means paring structures back to improving basics for a young group, still learning to take their games to the next level.
AFL-aligned teams have the advantage of full-time players in elite sporting environments with teams of specialist staff. Roosters players hold down full-time jobs or studies.
But this is what VFL competition is all about. So for standalones, it means tackling the game smarter.
Battle-ready bodies and football smarts take years to build, but the Roosters have proven they can compete standalone and have the key ingredients to gradually start clawing back to finals.