Written by Mitch Stagg.
Launcetson have rocketed into premiership conversations after a stunning 2017 finals campaign that saw them upset fancies Glenorchy and Clarence. TSL Digital Media Team reporter Mitch Stagg takes a look at what fans can look out for from one of the off-season’s most buzzed about outfits.
TSL Inception: 2009
TSL Premierships: 1 (2011)
Home Ground: Windsor Park, Riverside
Guernsey Colours: Navy Blue and White
Head Coach: Sam Lonergan
Senior Assistants: Darrin Geard, Deb Reynolds, Chris Hills
Bench Coach: Nathan Warren
Captains: Chris Savage, Hamish Leedham
Rivals: North Launceston
Key Fixtures: Round 1 v North Launceston at UTAS Stadium, Round 3 v Lauderdale at Lauderdale Oval, Round 8 v North Launceston at Windsor Park, Round 11 v Clarence at Windsor Park, Round 21 v Glenorchy at Windsor Park
2017 finish: 5th – lost to Lauderdale in Preliminary Final
Ins: Mitch Thorp (Devonport), Dylan Riley (Devonport), Jack Rushton (East Coast Swans), Jobi Harper (Burnie), Anthony Liberatore (Werribee), Patrick Mackrell (Bridgenorth), Giacomo Millucci (Devonport), Mitch Hodgetts (Werribee)
Outs: Jordan Harris (Evandale), Nathan O’Donoghue (Retired), Connor Smith (Mackay), Zach Griffiths (Bridgenorth), Gareth Holt (South Launceston), Alex Payne (injury)
The Blues started 2017 in promising fashion, comfortably accounting for North Western counterparts Devonport and Burnie in the opening two rounds. Sonny Whiting was particularly dangerous in front of goal, registering 10 majors, including a 7-goal haul against the Dockers.
The Blues did face a stern reality check in round three, however, suffering an 85-point thrashing at the hands of eventual premiers North Launceston. The Blues recovered to record a gritty away win against Lauderdale in round four, on their way to five wins out of their next seven matches.
Three straight losses to competition heavyweights North Launceston, Lauderdale and Clarence followed prior to the bye before a steadying win against the Tigers. The Blues would only record one more win for the regular season, against Devonport in round 19, placing them 5th with a 9-9 record heading into finals.
The business end of the season saw the Blues morph into giant killers, starting with a shock defeat of Glenorchy at Blundstone Arena in the Elimination final. This form continued in the first semi final, running away from Clarence, again at Blundstone Arena, to set up a Preliminary Final contest against Lauderdale. Ultimately, the grueling finals travel schedule took its toll, culminating in a 24-point defeat to the Southern Bombers, but the Blues left an indelible mark on the competition in a sign of what may be to come in season 2018.
Sam Lonergan will again lead the Blues in what many are predicting will be a highly successful season at Windsor Park. Buoyed by the recruitment of former Hawthorn player and Devonport coach Mitch Thorp and leading midfielder-utility Dylan Riley, the Blues have high expectations for the year ahead. The club has retained the bulk of its 2017 playing list but will be without Nathan O’Donoghue (retirement) and Jordan Harris (Evandale).
The senior coaching group have lauded the professional approach shown by the players towards the preseason program, punctuated by strong numbers and a clean bill of health. The club has put a strong focus on support staff to assist the playing group, investing heavily in physio and exercise physiologists on game day and throughout the week. The club is thrilled to welcome Casey Mainsbridge back to the club, who Lonergan says is “highly educated in strength and conditioning.”
Lonergan singled out Ben Killalea as one to watch for 2018 after returning from an injury-marred 2017 campaign with a strong preseason, “he is in fantastic shape and a real surprise packet with his intensity, effort and competitiveness.”
Casey Brown is another player who Lonergan identified, remarking that he had “one of the most gifted athletic profiles of anybody he has ever seen, even at AFL level.”
Development coach Oli Cook, who will look to build on a grand final appearance in the Mercury Cup in 2017, is also excited about the senior prospects of young Sam Bruinewood, a developing tall who has enjoyed a strong preseason. The Blues clinched the Mercury Cup minor premiership in 2017 with an average age of 18.2 years and Cook says there is “plenty of scope for development” heading into 2018.
Launceston will be looking to cement themselves in the upper echelon of the league and secure a double chance in finals and the best possible opportunity for premiership success. In 2017, the Blues struggled to match the competitions leading teams in the regular season, but a meteoric rise in the finals will give them the belief that they can take the next step and contend for the title.
They will have an immediate opportunity to impress, with a huge opening round clash against North Launceston on March 30. Lonergan expects his chargers to build upon the form they displayed in 2017, but identified a gulf in experience in the 24-28 age bracket, which has been a key focus of the clubs recruiting.
Former Devonport player Dylan Riley was singled out by Lonergan as a “class above in the way he reads the play and thinks” off the half back line and through the midfield. Lonergan is also excited about the prospects of fellow Devonport recruit Giacomo Millucci, who kicked five goals in a recent practice match and looked “extremely lively” around the football.
The Blues will have plenty of avenues to goal, with recruit Mitch Thorp joining leading goal kicker Sonny Whiting and the enigmatic Rulla Kelly-Mansell in an imposing forward set up. The onus will be on the clubs leading ball winners to give their forwards the supply they need to kick a winning score, with Lonergan eager to see his potent forward mix make the most of their entries and “own a game of football.”
Launceston will have a good mix of youth and experience in their leadership ranks, with Hamish Leedham and Chris Savage anointed as co-captains for 2018. Lonergan praised Leedham as a “natural leader,” who will contrast the experience of Savage, who he says “really demands and drives from the front and has a lot of life and football experience” to call upon. Lonergan is also keen to tap into the knowledge of new assistant coach, Deb Reynolds, singling out her “attention to detail” and her dedication to training and working with players.
Draft onlookers will be keen to see how Chayce Jones handles the expectation in his draft year. The AFL Academy member is one of the state’s leading draft hopefuls and the club is optimistic that he can get a clean run of football after an injury interrupted 2017 season. The talented midfielder is a composed user of the ball on both feet and the Blues will look to use this area of his game to add to their ball movement.
2018 Prediction: 2nd