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FALCONS ENTER 2017 WITH WELL-BALANCED PLAYING GROUP

Saturday, March 25, 2017 - 3:26 PM by Chris Pike
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DESPITE West Perth losing some key players over the summer coach Bill Monaghan likes the blend that he still has in the Falcons playing group and a key to that is the retention of veterans.

West Perth has lost some important players since the end of last season including premiership players Luke Tedesco, Matt Fowler, Laine Rasmussen and Rohan Kerr along with Drew Rohde, Max Duffy, Joel Leeson and Keegan Knott.

While each of those players will be missed, Monaghan is comfortable with the squad the Falcons enter 2017 with that begins this Sunday at HBF Arena against East Perth.

Importantly West Perth has been able to retain the majority of their veterans with Jay van Berlo, Andrew Strijk, Chris Keunen, Steven Browne and Matt Guadagnin all back for another crack at it.

Then there is a group including Aaron Black, Shane Nelson, Luke Meadows, Trent Manzone, Joe Morrow, Nick Rodda and Kody Manning who are now all entering their prime.

And on top of that, Tyler Keitel, Aidan Lynch, Blake Wilhelm, Corey Chalmers, Dean Munns, Kris Shannon, Ben King, Tyson Moulton and James Batterham are among the group who could thrive with increased responsibility and opportunity.

"We are fortunate that other than Luke Ted we haven’t lost anyone right at the top end of experience. Whilst we lost Rohan Kerr, Laine Rasmussen and Drew Rohde who are three guys who played a lot over the last two or three years, they are all 24 or under," Monaghan said.

"It's that middle tier that we've taken a bit of a hit in but our top end with van Berlo, Guadagnin, Keunen, Strijk and Browne are still there, and that has been one of the strengths of the West Perth Football Club to retain and have those guys guide the way.

"It's probably just accelerated for the next group with those guys who left so Corey Chalmers, Brayden Antonio and Kris Shannon are the ones we'll be looking to stand up because they are now in that middle section where they need to take over a little bit from where some of those guys who left were."

While players like Black, Nelson, Rodda, Meadows and Manning have been tremendous for West Perth in recent seasons, Monaghan is looking to challenge that group of players to improve even further and he's looking forward to seeing what they can do in the prime of their careers.

"Then what's also good about our squad is that guys Black, Nelson, Rodda, Meadows and Manning are all still relatively young in the big scheme of thing. The eldest of that group is 24 so they do need to take their game to another level," he said.

"If you look at Black and Nelson in particular as Sandover Medallists, club champions and premiership players, it's hard to see if they can take it to the next level but you would think at 24 they are entering that phase of their career where the next two, three and four years they should be at their absolute best."

One player who could be a virtual new recruit for West Perth in 2017 will be Guadagnin.

The 191-game veteran worked valiantly to try and return in 2016 following a knee reconstruction. He did get back to play in the reserves but hamstring problems meant he wasn’t able to make a league comeback.

However, the 33-year-old has committed himself to try and make a successful return in 2017 and all going well he will be able to reach his 200-game milestone at some point.

Monaghan will give him every chance to return and won't be rushing him.

"Guady has got through the majority of the pre-season and the stuff he's done, he's done very well. He is a quality leader, a quality person, he has good skills and his organisation is outstanding," he said.

"He will probably be a slow starter to the season and one of the issues is that he works his own farm and the other week he pulled up sore after crutching sheep all day. He then sits in the car for a couple of hours. In terms of the soft tissue stuff, it's always going to be a battle for him.

"We think we're on top of that but we won't rush him. We think Matt at his best has a place in our side and can make us improve, but we haven’t put any set expectations on what we need from him or when he'll play.

"We'll let him find his feet and when he's comfortable he'll put his hand up to play, and we'll select him on merit. We're really excited to have him back in the fold and hopefully he will play some really solid footy for us."

Another veteran West Perth will be looking at to have a big impact in 2017 is Browne.

However, the 139-game premiership defender will have a delayed start due to a back injury and it's simply a wait and see game from here.

"Browney's back is an on-going thing. He is tentatively booked in for some surgery at the end of the month, but he has a disc problem and by the time it gets to that, it might have settled down," Monaghan said.

"My understanding is it's very similar to what Kerry battled a couple of years, and Kerry took two or three months off to let it settle and gradually built back up. That's where the similarities probably end though because they do have very different body types.

"Kerry is a lightly framed, running player could afford to avoid contact at times to help his back. But then you have little stocky Steven Browne who might be prone to carrying a kilo or two, but puts his body in spots where most people won't go and cops the contact accordingly.

"The injuries might be similar but the style of player and physique of the players might mean it has a different outcome for Browney than it did for Kerry."