JACOB Bates has played with the Ararat Rats since his junior days in 2009 and says an increasing professionalism and loyalty can be seen in the club.
"Coming through the juniors and then starting in the senior ranks in 2013, there's obviously been quite a bit of change," he said.
"I think the club is just becoming more professional as the years have gone on.
"We obviously didn't have the numbers that we do now and in my first couple of years in the reserves, we were developing that good culture and developing that playing list to where we've got it now."
That strong playing list will come in handy as the Rats prepare to face the Horsham Demons in the next Wimmera League Round at Alexandra Oval.
Bates said it will be a key game for the side.
"I'm not sure exactly what the year would be but I don't think we've beaten Horsham since the early 2000s - probably 2003," he said.
"They've been the bench mark for the competition and a team we haven't been able to get over.
"Over the last couple of years we've probably gone into a few Horsham games thinking we can beat them and come up short.
"But this week, since I've been at the senior ranks, we've the strongest list to beat Horsham.
"From our last few weeks I think this is the best shape we've been in to beat their seniors."
Bates himself has returned to the seniors after a quad injury put him out of action in 2018, resulting in a selection for the reserve ranks and not the seniors.
But he says now he is feeling strong.
"It's good to be back on the path this year," he said.
He said focus and accountability will be key for the side to get up over the Demons.
"I try and keep it pretty simple, and just play my role for the team," he said.
Bates primarily plays defence but occasionally plays the wing.
He also said he's played nearly 90 games overall.
"I think if all 21 one of us can go out there and play our role it goes a long way towards winning the games," he said.
"So if I can concentrate on my role and play to my strengths it goes a long way to helping the team win.
"I try and control what I can control."
Also helping the team win will be a home ground advantage.
"We're on our home deck which probably gives us that extra bit of an advantage," Bates said.
The finish line and premiership was just starting to come into view and it pushed the players further.
"We're putting in that extra bit of work to help get to that level where we can contend," he said.
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