ARARAT - Two Ararat footballers have been selected in the North Ballarat Rebels under-18 TAC Cup squad for 2014.
Xavier Vearing from the Ararat Rats has made the 48-player squad for a second year, while Ararat Eagles' talent Tom Taurau has also gained selection as a bottom age player.
The Ararat duo were selected after training with the Rebels during the summer amongst more than 140 other hopefuls from across the Ballarat, Wimmera, Warrnambool and South West talent regions.
In 2013 Vearing played 14 games for the Rebels in the TAC Cup, impressing head coach David Loader with his athleticism and strong body work.
Vearing, who had arthroscopic surgery on his ankle late last year, said he was pleased to be given another opportunity with the club in 2014 after an interrupted pre-season.
"This year's pre-season wasn't really like others because of the ankle surgery," he said.
"I had a bit of a clean out and a couple of bones removed. I could feel it last year but I've been carrying it for a while now. I've got a pretty big year of football ahead of me so I thought I better get it taken care of.
"I came back after Christmas but it was more rehab than running, so it has been a lot different to past years."
Vearing was given the 'all clear' by his surgeon just in time to join in on the Rebels' practice matches.
The 18-year-old said he is now focused on preparing for the start of the TAC Cup season, which begins for North Ballarat on March 30 against the Geelong Falcons at Warrnambool.
"I am still a long way off where I want to be. I just need to concentrate on my match fitness and getting that right now," he said.
"I definitely know what to expect now. Just watching a lot of the top age players last year I know how hard I need to work to take my footy to the next level.
"At the end of last season I sat down and spoke with the coaches and they were looking at a key position roll either forward or back for me and a lot less ruck work.
"I played centre-half back in the practice match, but I'm not sure if that's an indication or not, I probably prefer forward just because I have played there more, but it's up to the coach."
North Ballarat Rebels talent manager Phil Partington said Vearing had come a long way since debuting for the Rebels in 2012 after being elevated from the under-16 development squad.
"We were really pleased with Xave's development last year," he said.
"He is a fine athlete and I think the next step is now to develop his skills further.
"The standard of talls in this year's squad is terrific. It will test all players and be competitive for spots, so hopefully Xave is able to really lock down a key position and have a good year."
For Tom Taurau 2013 was a break out year on the football field for the Ararat teenager, which culminated in him becoming one of the youngest footballers to win the Ararat Eagles' senior best and fairest.
Partington said Taurau had put his head down and did everything possible over the summer to gain selection on the Rebels' list.
"We have been very happy with Tommy during the pre-season, he has worked hard," he said.
"He has got fabulous speed, he'd be one of the quickest players in the squad this year. As a bottom age player we will be looking to develop his skills.
"When he gets an opportunity the beauty of Tom is that he can play forward, defence and even go on the ball. Having that versatility is a fantastic quality to have in a footballer."
Taurau said his form in the trial matches in recent weeks had been mixed, but he took on board the advice that the coaches gave him.
"They've got a good bunch of coaches down there who have been really helpful," he said.
"They want me to be a bit more aggressive at taking the ball. I played off the half-back and swapped in the middle, but really they play you all over the ground to get an idea of what type of player you are."
Taurau said he will make the most of his opportunities should he be selected this season.
The North Ballarat Rebels finished 12th on the ladder in 2013 with just two wins from 17 outings.
Partington said despite 15 losses, the Rebels' coaching staff still considered the season to be a success.
"Quite honestly we don't look at the win-loss ratio in the TAC Cup and we never will," he said.
"The development of players is the most important thing and to get three footballers on AFL lists proved 2013 was successful.
"Certainly this year the group of boys we have look like they will be more competitive, so I am sure it can be another successful season both on and off the field."