By Ant Wingard @AntWingard
After slumping to a second-last finish following their breakthrough 2017 QAFLW Premiership, a strong start to 2019 could aid Yeronga South Brisbane in leapfrogging the pack and returning to finals action.
That is the plan at least for new Yeronga head coach, Aaron Russell, who said making a good start in the opening rounds would be critical to the success of his side’s season.
“It is pretty crucial. You get a really good look at every club’s depth – that’s the most obvious thing,” Russell said.
“Those first two games will be interesting. When you can notch up those wins, it could be the difference between playing finals and teams finishing top two or not at all.
“We are pretty confident with the group that they can make quick progress.”
The early season stretch looms crucial for Yeronga. Last season the Devils won just one of their opening four games and ended up missing finals by a mere percentage.
Russell, who has joined the Devils after a two-year hiatus from the QAFLW after steering Coolangatta to their 2016 Premiership, said those games could be the deciding factor at the pointy end of the year.
QAFLW teams will be forced to overcome the absence of a hefty chunk of their playing lists, with AFL Women’s players unavailable given the quick turnaround from the concluding AFLW season.
“The way the season is structured and with those players having limited availability, it’s the next tier who sets you up,” he said.
“We’re really looking for that group to improve and that is what’s going to really make the difference.”
Despite team’s 6-8 record in 2018, the Devils haven’t been as active as other QAFLW clubs in the offseason recruitment drive, instead backing their list of established state league talent and the emerging QFAW Division 1 contingent.
Kalinda Howarth, Jessica Watts and Georgie Brehmer have all swapped the Devils’ red sash for Bond University blue in the offseason making the Round 1 matchup even more intriguing.
Among the team’s inclusions are former soccer talent turned two-way midfielder Vanessa Hart, who despite never playing Australian Rules football before, has been earmarked by Russell for a big year ahead.
“She hasn’t ever played a game but she’s already a natural and has found plenty of the footy in our match sim,” he said.
“She’s probably the fittest player at the club and she’d rival [Emily] Batesy in the 3km time trial.”
Sarah Duncan also returns to the fray for the first time since 2015 having represented Queensland at the 2013 Under 18 National Championships in the same year she was included in the SEQAFL Team of the Year.
The minimal player movement at Leyshon Park means improvement will need to come from the team’s existing core, but the uniqueness of the QAFLW means any result could be a given according to Russell.
Nonetheless, a return to finals would mark the perfect reintroduction to the competition for Russell and mark the return of Yeronga in 2019.
“The side narrowly missed out on finals last year and there’s every chance that could happen to some teams again this year.”
“We obviously want to be on the better end of that. We want to play finals footy of course.”