WFL - The Ararat Rats will get their first taste of competitive football for 2014 when the team competes in the Sebastopol Football Club's pre-season Lightning Premiership competition this Sunday.
It is the second year the Rats have taken part in the round-robin tournament which attracts clubs from across south-west Victoria.
Ararat players have been hard at work on the training track since mid-November under the guidance of joint-coaches Andrew Louder and David Hosking, with the key focus to build the group's endurance levels.
Hosking said the addition of Jill Brennan to the football department as a strength and conditioning coach had complemented the program set out by running coach Marcus Cooper.
"We are fairly happy with how the pre-season has gone so far, certainly the numbers have been good," he said.
"We are very happy with getting Jill on board and coordinating that with Marcus and getting just a bit more professional about our preparation. I think that has shown.
"I reckon we are fitter than last year our endurance is certainly better."
The Rats have had a successful summer attracting new players to the club and practice matches in the coming weeks will see the new recruits don the red and white for the first time as the team builds to its opening Wimmera Football League match against Nhill at Alexandra Oval on April 12.
Headlining Ararat's pickups are Eastern Football League exports Beau Cosson (Noble Park) and Daniel Mendes (Vermont), who will add experience to the young Rats' lineup, while Tim Porter also joins the club from the Golden Rivers Football League.
Jake Robinson has committed to Ararat full time after spending the majority of the last two seasons playing with the North Ballarat Rebels, while reliable defender Stephen Phillips will also make a welcome return following a broken arm which sidelined him for most of last year.
Hosking said a strong recruiting drive coupled with minimal departures has added depth to the Rats' senior list.
"What we recognised was that we needed to recruit the age demographic that we were missing, so that is guys that are in their mid-20s and are at the peak of their footballing life I guess," he said.
"Between the ages of 25 and 30 is when the experience meets peak fitness levels before you start to go down the other side of the hill. You need a core group of those blokes, sure we already have Will Bell, Aaron Searle, Alan Batchelor, Peter Thompson, Jake Williamson, but if you are going to be a fairly decent side you need to have a few more of those.
“Daniel Mendes certainly fits that bill, so does Beau Cosson and we also recognise the need for some stronger bodies and physical presence, so Timmy Porter is a guy that is going to give us that too and Jake Robinson, whilst he isn’t particularly big, he is very strong physically as an in-and-under midfielder.
“Then there are a couple of others, so if you put those four or five guys in there...I would think you start to have the kilos to match it with Horsham and those sort of sides. I don’t know if we are as good as them yet, but physically we won’t be intimidated.”
Sunday’s Lightening Premiership kicks off a busy month for Ararat, with practice matches also scheduled against Warrnambool and Hamilton.
Hosking said results in those hit outs aren’t necessarily what the coaches will be focused on, instead the games are more about testing structures and trying players in different areas.
“It is sometimes hard for new players to come into a new organisation and work out where they fit, so these practice matches will also be important for that,” he said.
“Overall I just think it will be important to measure how the pre-season has gone, this will be our first real indicator. How we go against Sebastopol because we played them last year, how we go against Warrnambool because we played them last year and they are a premier team.
“So that’s probably what we will be looking to get out of the next month and to prepare ourselves for the first game.”
The Rats travel to Warrnambool for a training camp on March 15 and 16, which is the third time the club has done this in as many years.
Hosking said the Warrnambool camp is as much about welcoming the newest crop of under-17 graduates into the senior group as it is about working on fitness.
“Interestingly enough when we talked to a few younger players and I asked them what was important about last year, a lot of them say the Warrnambool camp,” he said.
“To them Alan Batchelor and Jake Williamson are established senior players that play for the Wimmera League, one has won a Toohey Medal, so they are up on a bit of pedestal and what the camp did was put a human face on them.
“The great part is that it shows the young ones that they are senior players too and part of the senior group who get to mix with those guys — it takes away a bit of the mystique.”