After taking massive steps forward this year, Woodend-Hesket is hoping it has added key pieces of the jigsaw to be a finals contender in the Riddell District Football League.
The Hawks have struggled in recent years but are starting to show signs they’ll no longer be one of the competition’s easybeats.
Hawks playing coach Ross Sleight said the aim in the off-season had been finding players to complement this year’s line-up.
“Everyone is staying on board and the aim was to go out and get people to fill roles,” Sleight said. “We added a lot of players last season and it’s about continuing that process.”
The Hawks have been one of the busiest teams in the off-season with six signings, the biggest being Woodend junior Ben Toman, who played most of his 2015 football with VFL team Northern Blues.
“It’s a massive bonus to have Ben playing with us permanently,” Sleight said. “He played five games with us in 2015 and finished in the top five of our best and fairest award. His experience with Northern Blues will be invaluable.”
Getting key forwards was among Sleight’s first tasks.
“We lacked height and targets,” he said, We tried people through the forward line, but it didn’t work. Now we’ve got Josh Smerdon from Rupertswood and he’ll be a key forward.
“Woodend junior Tom Gawthorp has returned to the club and will play as our centre half-forward. He was with Calder Cannons this year as a 19 year old.”
The Hawks also aimed to aid some pace to complement the current midfield group.
“We have the bigger bodies who can get the ball, but we didn’t have anyone to flick it out to,” Sleight said.
“Jarrod Arnold is a running wingman who will prove to be vital, while we’ve got a couple of 18-year-olds from Avondale Heights, Blake Laverie and Jordan Filakis, who will add more pace.”
A big part of the recruiting for the Hawks was getting players who would fit straight into the club.
“I haven’t got anyone who doesn’t know people here,” Sleight said.
“I’ve known Josh Smerdon for years and he knows a lot of our players. Blake Laverie’s brother, Trent, already plays for us. The focus was to make sure they didn’t feel like outsiders.”
The Hawks will also be boosted by the return of Sleight, who missed half of 2015 through injury. “It’s the first time I’ve really been injured in my career and I want to give back to the club,” he said.