After achieving the ultimate success in 2016 off the back of a wobbly start, this time round the Tigers will be looking to come out of the blocks furiously, channeling some of their explosive finals form. The round 4 Surfers defeat will still be in the back of a few minds, so followers will be anticipating a response when the ball is bounced for Labrador’s round 1 clash with the Demons on the 23rd of April.
Out of the senior 22 from last year the Tigers have only lost a couple and have regained 2015 premiership players Zach Brain and Hugh Wadsworth. The 2016 premiership side also contained a lot of younger players, whose development should help elevate the Tigers again. Jake Goldsmith, as well as younger players Mickey Abbey and Reece Coombes are in red-hot form heading into the season. The Tigers have also landed the coveted signature of retired AFL player Barry Hall, who’s committed to a minimum of 5 games. Hall covers the loss of Josh Baxter to some extent and brings significant experience to the club. Expect a big crowd when Hall laces up his boots.
In his first year at the head of the Tigers outfit, coach Aaron Shattock has largely taken the approach ‘if it’s not broke don’t fix it.’ That being said, he still wants to implement some of his own little tweaks on the game plan.
“Don’t get me wrong I’m trying to put my own little trademarks on a few things, we definitely want to change a few little things up, but look, we haven’t lost a hell of a lot so we’ll definitely be similar in a lot of ways that’s for sure,” said the new Tigers coach.
Pre-season for the Tigers has run smoothly and they’ve remained injury free, though the effect of starting later than most remains to be seen. After a practice match against the Brisbane Lions reserve team, the Tigers have ‘blown out the cobwebs’ and according to the coach are looking forward to round one.
As the ones to beat for season 2017, the Tigers aren’t getting too ahead of themselves and according to Shattock, aren’t feeling any extra pressure as the reigning premiers.
“Last year is irrelevant, it’s not going to help us this year. Yeah, we made a slow start last year so obviously that’s a key for us, is to try get off to a better start, but look, we’ve definitely moved on and (are) looking at this year,” said Shattock.
Labrador’s round one appointment with Surfers Paradise on the 23rd of April will be Shattock’s first game as senior coach and the former Brisbane Lions premiership player isn’t immune to nerves.
“That’s the beauty about footy I suppose, that’s what draws you to it is that nerves and that match day competitiveness, so nah, looking forward to it. It’ll be good but yeah, definitely wouldn’t have thought I’d sleep a hell of a lot,” said Shattock.
Tigers skipper Bryce Retzlaff is no exception to the pre-season rule of optimism, having had an uninterrupted build up, missing only two sessions since November.
“It’s all about a new year, under a new coach, so yeah, we’re obviously pretty excited about the new season,” the Tigers captain said.
The playing group pride themselves on sticking together and the coach transition has been seamless, coach Shattock having been around the club for a long time in an assistant capacity.
“It would have been a bit different if someone from outside the footy club had come in, but the fact that Shats knows the group so well, and I think we’ve retained 99 or 98 percent of our premiership side from last year, so that was a pretty seamless type transition,” said Retzlaff.
Despite opposition teams eyeing Labrador as the ones to beat this year, the Tigers’ focus remains within the fences of the Ashton Street football oval.
“We just move on, last year was great and I think if you spend too much time dwelling on your success then inevitably you’re going to fail.”
“We certainly take confidence in the fact of what we’ve been able to do over the last few years, we’ve been in the last three grand finals, I think when that time of year comes if we’re thereabouts, we’ll have plenty of confidence that we can get the job done,” said Retzlaff.
With a familiar list of players that have been playing together for a while now the Tigers have a distinct advantage. Along with the fresh type of energy that comes with a new coach who knows the list well, Labrador are in poll position to have a great year. If the Tigers are there come finals time they have every chance to take home another cup to add to the collection. Add Barry Hall to the goal square and look out.
By Sean Melrose.