GREATER Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels regional talent operations lead, Phil Partington has lauded the hard work of his squad during preseason after an unforeseen year away from competitive action. The country region will start its 2021 NAB League season on Thursday evening against the Geelong Falcons, with an Under 17 clash making it a double-header at CE Brown Reserve.
The Rebels boast an exciting batch of high-end talent which should steer the side towards positive areas not only in terms of win-loss results, but more importantly in the realm of draftee production. While there is plenty of promise surrounding the group, Partington says his troops have sought to “get the best out of themselves” in more than just an individual sense during preseason.
“(Hard work) is one thing that really grows above most things in our program, that the boys want to improve and want to perform as well,” Partington said. “That’s not just for their own individual performance, it’s overall the team performance. Our experienced coaches who have all been involved at AFL level over the last three to five years, to see those coaches, the way they coach them and the boys responding to that has been really pleasing for our program.”
As part of the competition’s restructure, the top age has been lifted to 19 to ensure those who missed out on playing last year have ample opportunity to prove their draft credentials. Despite the shift, Partington says the age profile on GWV’s squad has seen much of its list made up by 18th-year prospects, along with a handful of returning 19th-year players. Those top-agers have also had the opportunity to mingle with VFL squads ahead of season proper.
“With the profile of our squad we’ve gone with many 18-year-olds, we’ve only got five 19-year-old boys in our squad and that was just the make-up of our talent base,” he said. “Marcus Herbert has a VFL contract with Geelong so we’re really pleased with that and he’s been training with them all through the preseason.
“Jett Bermingham who’s one of our 19-year-olds has also been training with Geelong during the preseason, but he’ll be back with us full-time. “Fraser Marris is training down there, he’s at university down in Geelong so he’s training with Geelong VFL throughout the year as well, so our boys are getting opportunities at the next level but we’ve got at the draftable age, a strong group of Under 18 players this year.
“If boys get that opportunity to play VFL football this year I think it’s going to be fantastic for their development. We always encourage our players to play the highest (level) of football that they are capable of and if that’s VFL, it’s outstanding for the development of those players and their draft prospects too.”
Looking at the 2002-born standouts, AFL Academy member Ben Hobbs is certainly one to watch and is one of the few players in his age group to have already gained NAB League experience. The hard-nosed, hard running inside midfielder was among those Partington identified as impactful figures leading into Round 1.
“We’ve got the likes of Ben Hobbs, the way he has performed as a 16-year-old in our program (was outstanding)… Josh Rentsch got the opportunity to play some NAB League and so did Josh Gibcus (and Charlie Molan) so there’s a few players who have had opportunities to play as 16-year-olds in our program. Then you’ve got the likes of a Sam Butler, who’s worked extremely hard and impressed over the preseason, making massive impacts into games, so I’ve been really pleased with those players.
“The one player that has not so much jumped onto our radar, but developed very nicely in size and shape is Thomas Baulch from the Koroit Football Club. During our preseason phase and match simulations, we’ve been very impressed with the way he played, his running capability and his ability to kick goals. He’s a 194cm wingman or half-back/half-forward, he can play in various positions so we’re excited to see if he can carry on his preseason performance into the season.”
Leadership is yet to be finalised at this point but is in the works, with the delay mainly down to the vast expanses of GWV’s region and time constraints across preseason. Partington says the Rebels have navigated the many challenges facing each region, particularly country ones, and have seen improvement from players each time they are able to come together. All that, with the prize of finally getting back on the park now within reach.
“We’re just looking forward to the start of the NAB League season and giving our boys the opportunity to get back to what they love,” he said. “They’ve watched our girls on a couple of occasions, so the enthusiasm from our girls program has come over to our boys program and I know they’re really keen to get going. We’ll be competitive and that’s all we want for our boys to improve each week.”
’03-BORN GWV PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Thomas Baulch – one to keep an eye on this year, the versatile utility is a good size at 194cm and can play along each line. He impressed during match simulation and has some nice traits to impact off the wing or a flank.
Sam Breuer – a defender who will look to operate off half-back, Breuer was pushed well during the off-season and is still workin gon his speed. In terms of strengths, he can play lockdown roles well and dictate play from behind the ball.
Sam Butler – the brother of Richmond’s Dan, Butler will play a high half-forward role with GWV this season while also rotating through midfield. He brings good speed and tackling pressure to the fore, with his overall work rate impressing during preseason.
Josh Gibcus – an athletic tall prospect who registered top 10 jumps during the NAB League preseason testing, Gibcus has already played at the level. His leap and overhead mark are obvious strengths, but Gibcus is looking to develop his understanding of the game and his kicking skills.
Ben Hobbs – the Rebels’ standout player this year, Hobbs is an AFL Academy member and one of the best inside midfielders nationwide. He has been developing his outside game and skills, with leadership, stoppage extraction, and hard running among his most impressive assets.
Jye Lockett – the nephew of Tony, Lockett spent time back home on the Gold Coast from December through to March with the Suns Academy, which he is tied to. He will likely play a centre half-forward or third tall role, with his goalkicking a trait passed down through the family genes.
Kai Lohmann – one who has been able to lean on an older sibling to help keep fit, Lohmann is a handy player in his own right and hopes to showcase his marking and goal sense up forward this year. He will likely roll up the ground as a high half-forward with midfield minutes also on his agenda.
Charlie Molan – the brother of Richmond AFLW player Sophie, Molan is a half-back with serious penetration on his kicks, as well as speed and a top attitude. Molan is working on those shorter kicks and one-on-one bodywork as he looks to cement a spot down back.
Josh Rentsch – a promising key forward who can also pinch hit in the ruck, Rentsch already has some NAB League experience under his belt. His mix of strength, contested marking and athleticism should come to the fore in 2021.