Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 9:49 AM

WE are excited by our start to the season, but we know that this week against Claremont is a huge test and we are going to have to be at our very best. Anything less than our very best will leave us vulnerable.

Claremont are the yard stick for everyone at the moment. There were reports that they weren’t that advanced in their pre-season training, that they had a couple of weeks off and a couple of their more senior players even a bit more time. Word has it that a couple were contemplating retirement and as part of the negotiation to get them play on that was part of it, but they are a fit side, they have hard bodies and generally are a mature side.

They are going very well for a side who might have been two or three weeks behind the other sides leading into pre-season. They do have some injury concerns at the moment, but they have also been able to bring in some recruits with Seaby and Williams, and a couple of their reserves players who have been around for a couple of years playing in premierships and have stepped up especially Fong, Davies and Hamp. I guess opportunity, belief and confidence can do wonders for players like that.

They are going to be a difficult side whether they have a couple out with injuries or not. They still have access to a couple of AFL blokes and McGinnity played last week so there's still a fair bit of quality there. Murphy is a genuine on-ball star in this competition, Andrews is the back-up ruckman and they have quality all over the ground so we are going to need to be at our best.

It's their depth and quality of the people they can run through that sets them apart. We've played them when they have started Andrew Foster, Ian Richardson and Paul Medhurst all on the bench. There's a fair few other coaches who would die to have them in their starting 18.

I think historically Claremont has always been perceived as a side and group of players who might have been soft and you can go back a number of years and come up with 100 different names that Claremont has been called. But the last three or four years they have been as hard at the contest as any other side in the competition and they have a lot of strong, mature bodies. They have good quality and have been well coached, but they match that with a strong physical brand of football, and run as hard as anyone else in the competition.

Marc Webb is their coach and I know him well, and he was an outstanding leader as a player and from the outside he is as a coach. He wasn’t, and I'm sure he will say the same thing, the world's most talented player and he got the most out of himself and he was able to command respect in the players and set a great example. They are all attributes you need as a coach and I think he keeps it relatively simple, he is honest and open as a person and is coaching the same way.

The ruck battle will be great to watch and I guess you can say that there will be a victory to a West Perth ruckman with Chris Keunen taking on Mark Seaby and Mitch Andrews. We were disappointed that Seabs didn’t come back to the club, but he made a decision and he's in good form and is giving Claremont's on-ballers first use of the ball with his great ruck work. Mitch is a talented ruckman and it was more a set of circumstances than anything that led him away from us, and one of those was Andrew Ruck going down for Claremont and he was available.

He has been lucky enough to play in two premierships there and he is a quality ruckman as well, but we think Chris holds his own against all ruckmen in the competition. There probably are issues around the clinches against the big bodies because even though he's 200cm, he only weighs 87kg and he is up against guys weighing over 100kg so he's going to get pushed around at times. But with his work around the ground he is as talented as any ruckman in the competition. We might lose a little bit at times at the actual stoppages, but his whole effect on games is enormous and we expect him to have another big game this week.

Obviously this Saturday is a big game, but the group has been excited ever since coming back for pre-season. They came back full of enthusiasm and wanting to improve, and we have a number of young players who have come through our system plus we've added a couple from outside like Kerr, Fowler and Manzone. It might be that if this group stays together for a three or four-year period they will continue to improve and set high standards throughout the competition.

At this stage, Jason Salecic is on track to come back for Saturday as well. He got through training on Tuesday night and he will play now barring any mishap at training on Thursday. We think that Hutchy has to be a chance around West Coast at some stage with the form he's in and we have a few guys in the reserves who are playing really good footy. They were fantastic on the weekend so hopefully the pressure will keep coming from below to help us keep performing in the league side.