North Warrnambool Eagles balance list regeneration with competitiveness

STEPPING UP: Matt Dennis is among a host of impressive Eagles to debut this season. Picture: Morgan Hancock
STEPPING UP: Matt Dennis is among a host of impressive Eagles to debut this season. Picture: Morgan Hancock

STRIKING the right balance between blooding youngsters and staying competitive has been key to North Warrnambool Eagles’ finals hopes this season.

And the club, which is going through a “development year” this season is set to unveil another youngster when it hosts Hamilton Kangaroos at Bushfield on Saturday.

Jalen Porter – son of Eagles’ Maskell Medallist Jason Porter – is the “ninth or 10th” Bushfield player to make his senior debut this season as last year’s grand finalist combines list regeneration with on-field success, having won nine of their 15 games to date.

Eagles co-coach Graeme Twaddle said he was looking forward to seeing what the utility could bring.

“He can play any position on the ground, really,” Twaddle said. “He can play forward, play back – play through the midfield if we need.”

The Eagles have had a successful run of debutants this season, with the likes of Will Scriven, Matt Dennis and Liam Stow racking up senior appearances.

“(Scriven) has stepped up to the plate. He’s been plating really terrific football,” Twaddle said.

“He’s playing through the midfield rotation … he’s got good agility and is a good user of the ball.

“Liam Stow, he’s a really good developing player. Matt Dennis is another one who has debuted this year (and really stood up).

“Jackson Grundy is an under 16 player. He played his first game last week, which was quite impressive.”

The Eagles have had significant turnover of their list from last season, and after a shaky 1-4 start to the season have won eight of their past 10 outings to keep their top-three hopes alive.

They sit fifth at the moment – a win behind South Warrnambool (third) and Cobden (fourth). But the Eagles’ superior percentage could see them leapfrog tboth in the final few rounds if results go their way.

“In terms of our development: our best 21, we probably haven’t had on the park yet, which is good,” Twaddle said.

“(With the debutants,) you just don’t know what you might unveil. One of those might just be one of the ones who step up to the plate and have that blinder.”

Xavier Mills will return to the Eagles’ line-up after he was rested last week with calf soreness, while Ben Fleming and Tom MacLarn are also back in.

Jye Bidmade (rested), Reece Scoble (hamstring tightness) and Tom Keast are out of the side, as is Tom James has gone back to the under 18.5 side to qualify for the junior finals.

Hamilton Kangaroos are set to welcome back two promising youngsters of their own, with a TAC Cup bye clearing the way for Cooper Henson – for the first time this season – and Tom Scott to play for their home club.