Harris Happy with Tigers Pre-Season

Wednesday, February 14, 2018 - 11:56 AM

Claremont coach Darren Harris is happy with the Tigers’ pre-season and confident the team can be “stronger for longer” in 2018.

With the McDonald’s WAFL Premiership Season fast approaching, Harris says the Tigers, who have started their match simulation over the last couple of weeks, are in good shape.

“We’ve been really happy,” Harris said.

“We had a five-week phase before Christmas which was about using our gym more extensively than we have done in the past and making sure we got blokes prepared for success – that was the real key pre-Christmas.

“And post-Christmas we’ve just been building every week on our style of play and what we’re doing in our game skills, so (we’ve) been really happy with the way the lads are coming along.”

With the Tigers forced to train and play at several different venues during the redevelopment of Claremont Oval, Harris says the use of the new venue will help the team compete for longer and hold them in good stead for the upcoming season.

“I think the key strategy is the use of the gym,” Harris said.

“(Last year) we felt like, when we were playing against the better sides, we physically couldn’t compete over a long period of time, and I reckon that’s through years of not having complete gym programs and real accountability around it.

“You can’t hide at the moment because of our facility with the gym, so we feel like we’re a lot stronger and we’ll be able to compete more, but that’s where we’re going to get our self-esteem from…just getting our strength up in the gym, which we’ve worked hard at.”

Another positive was the condition the playing group returned in after the Christmas break.

“A lot of personal bests, this time around with their running and their skinfolds and also their weight, so all the signs early are that we’re in pretty good shape,” Harris said.

After battling a lengthy injury list in 2017, the Tigers will be hoping for a cleaner bill of health in 2018.

“We’re reasonably happy with how the health of our list is,” Harris said.

“We’ve got a couple of long-termers but they’ll come good within time.

“We had a couple of (players undergo) shoulder operations last year, in Aden Wilkins and Tom Lee, but they’re starting to get to a stage where they’re not far away.”

The Tiger Army can look forward to seeing some new faces, with Tom Curren and Isaac Wallace joining the club, while a favourite son, Kane Mitchell, returns to Tigerland.

Curren, 25, played 25 games for St Kilda and won Sandringham’s best-and-fairest award in 2012.

“Tom’s come in and been a really good leader for us,” Harris said.

“We’re taking a real cautious approach with him at the moment (Curren missed all of last season with a fractured foot), so he’s building through a program that will have him get back, because he had an injury last year.”

Wallace, 19, played for the Murray Bushrangers and is capable of filling a number of positions.

“Isaac is a kid that’s come over from Victoria, and (we’re) really happy with the way he’s going about it,” Harris said.

“(He’s) a quality kid, looks like a tough nut and, the other good thing about him is he’s played some elite footy in the TAC Cup, he’s been a TAC Cup captain, so we know he’s got the talent, it’ll just take him a little while to settle.

“He was a midfielder in junior footy and, he’s played his best footy, probably, as a backman.

“That’s where he is at the moment, as a small defender, but we’d expect him to be able to play midfield and as a pressure-forward as well.”

Meanwhile, Mitchell, 28, will resume his Claremont career after travelling in 2017.

Mitchell played in Claremont’s 2011&2012 premiership teams and won the 2012 Sandover Medal, with a record 58 votes (equalling Matt Priddis' record for Subiaco in 2006) before being drafted by Port Adelaide, where he played 35 games.

“Kane’s jumping out of his skin to get going,” Harris said.

“Again, we’ll build him over the next couple of weeks before he gets into full training.”

The Tigers will need to fill a void left by a couple of experienced players and popular clubmen, with Ryan Neates and Mitch Andrews hanging up the boots.

“(It was) a bit of a shame to lose Neater and big Mitchy – they’ve been great servants,” Harris said.

“Mitch is at that time of his life where he’s got his kids and his business is going really well.

“He still really wants to play, but he can’t commit to the time.

“Ryan has just had a degenerative knee over the last two to three years and has struggled to get on the park.

“Because of that, I just think it’s worn him down, so he’s taken a break.”

The absence of Andrews in the ruck will be felt, with Harris looking to a mix of experienced midfielders and the rise of some Tiger cubs to help cover the loss.

“We’ve got some great kids,” Harris said.

“We’ve got to make sure that our midfielders, who are experienced, get around them and help them.

“Jeremy Goddard’s really working hard in his pre-season, (we’re) really happy with how he’s going.

“We saw Oliver Eastland, last year, play a couple of really good games towards the end of the year, so we know he’s got the talent and he’s also worked hard, and Eddie Simpson’s a pretty good ruckman.

“You can also throw Kaiden Gilbert into that mix as well, who hasn’t played a league game yet, but we really think he could be a player for us.

“He’ll be a forward-ruckman as well.”

These emerging Tigers are getting used to a new voice helping them learn their craft, with WAFL legend and hall of famer, Percy Johnson, joining the club to work with the young talls.

“Perc has been great,” Harris said.

“He’s been around (for) a while - we love having him work with the kids and they’re enjoying him as well.”

With Kepler Bradley moving into a senior assistant role with the league side, where he will be in charge of stoppages and assist Andrew Embley (midfield coach), 2006 West Coast Eagles premiership player, Steven Armstrong, has been appointed Development Coach.

“I’ve had a good relationship with him (Armstrong) over a long period of time, so he comes in and coaches the reserves and really brings some experience as well,” Harris said.

“Craig White steps up to the forward line in the senior side, so it’s a really good coaching group and, (when) you throw Geoff Valentine, our most experienced coach, down back, we’re pretty happy with the group we’ve got.”

The Tigers will also have a change in captaincy, with Jake Murphy stepping down after four seasons in the role.

“(On) our camp weekend we’ll have our player vote,” Harris said.

“We’ve had one, we’ve had a standards group, now we’ll pick our leadership group at the camp and, from there, that leadership group will nominate their captain based on the votes.”

With pre-season matches set to commence early next month, Harris says the Tigers are looking forward to testing themselves against opposition teams.

“We’ve got a camp coming up which will be important for our education and our building of our relationships and making sure they’re strong,” Harris said.

“From here on in we’re pretty much getting close to game mode.

“(They’re) looking forward to that, the boys, no doubt and, it always gets to this time of year and you start to get sick of playing each other and you want to play some opposition teams.”

The first of Claremont’s pre-season matches is against Peel Thunder at Claremont Oval on March 10.

Dan Scamozzi - CFC Journalist