Knights excited for Futures

AFTER an interrupted last couple of years be it in-season or off-season, Northern Knights Girls Talent Operations Lead Nat Grindal is excited for the future. Not only for the immediate future and hope that 2022 will bring about less interruptions, but also the new Futures squad at the club, welcoming almost 50 new faces into the program.

“In terms of the preparation it’s been really good, we did a scratch match last Wednesday which was our last training session and really impressed with the girls ball movement and they just wanted to play footy,” Grindal said of the preseason. You could tell that they were playing with that intensity, so I think it made everyone – staff included – excited for what is around the corner. We only have four more training sessions and then Round 1.

“I think the inclusion of the Futures program has been really exciting for us. “We’ve got nearly 50 brand new girls who have never been in our program before, so we’re really excited about that opportunity to play those games and see what the future talent of our region is.”

Grindal described the preseason as a “quick one” with the initial team trials meant to be held in September, but COVID-19 pandemic restrictions force the Knights’ hand to move it back to November. After the trials, the Knights were able to get a few weeks in prior to Christmas, and then capped off their year at the NAB League Girls Preseason Testing Day thanks to Rookie Me.

“We’ve had six weeks, so 12 sessions, we train twice a week,” Grindal said. “Then there’s the opportunity for the girls to test today is awesome as well, just to get another experience.”

Three Northern Knights players earned selection into the Vic Metro hub this year. Top-age talents Rylie Wilcox and Brooke Plummer, and bottom-age pocket rocket Ava Jordan. All three are very different types, with eye-catching traits.

Grindal compared Wilcox to a slick Carlton forward given her athleticism, upside and goal sense.

“Rylie really exciting, small forward really zippy,” Grindal said. “(She) really reminds me a bit of a Georgia Gee type player, really fast, exciting, she’s got a fantastic leap on her as well, so obviously a power athlete, but obviously really exciting in the forward line. “I’d hate to be a defender trying to take care of her.”

Plummer is more of a stronger midfielder who predominantly plied her trade on the wing in 2021, but is waiting to get back out on the park after a preseason setback.

“She’s sort of an outside mid type, not sure where she will play this year, it might evolve as the season goes on,” Grindal said. “She’s currently injured at the moment which has been a bit of an interrupted preseason, but actually tracking well and hopefully will be back to full training by the time we return and hopefully Round 1.”

The youngest of the trio, Jordan, finished second in the NAB League Girls best and fairest award as a 15-year-old, something Grindal described as “incredibly impressive”. Playing as a small inside midfielder with outstanding agility, the Northern Knights Talent Operations Lead said Jordan can only get better with more confidence.

“I don’t think she realises how good she is yet, and I think when she starts to realise and things start to fall into place, she’s only going to continue to develop and go up in the competition,” Grindal said. “She’ll probably be in a similar role this year, she’s pushed forward in a couple of games last year and impacted on the scoreboard and hopefully she can do more of that.”

Wilcox could also push more into the midfield with a higher role than where she played in 2021. Grindal admitted that due to less preseason than normal, there had not been as much time to identify potential role changes, and that would be worked out as the season went on.

“Given the quick turnaround we haven’t really consolidated where girls are playing,” Grindal said. “It sort of happens as the season goes on, you try players in different places and if recruiters want to see girls in different spots, we’re always accomodating for that as well, so they can see where a player might be for their needs. “She (Wilcox) won’t play exactly the same role as she did last year, but her development’s been really impressive as well, so we’re excited what another 12 months or six months under their belts do.”

Another few players outside the Vic Metro hub to keep an eye on in 2022 are Phoebe Nelson, Ella Smallacombe and Lulu Beatty. Nelson recorded the Knights’ best score of the day in the yo-yo test at the Preseason Testing Day, and has shot up to 180cm after playing as a midfielder in 2021.

“She played on the wing for us as well, really clever outside mid,” Grindal said. “The wing’s a really difficult role and she’s one who really understood it and positionally was always in the right spots, so I think she’s one that I think would be on people’s radars, most definitely.”

Smallacombe is returning to the Knights as an over-age 19-year-old player who has some good upside. Possessing strong hands, Grindal said she is “one to keep an eye on”, whilst Beatty performed strongly in her 17s year as an intercept defender and despite currently being injured and would miss the first few rounds, is another one to watch.

Looking to the season ahead which kicks off in just over a week, Grindal said she just hoped the competition could return to a sense of normality in otherwise unpredictable times.

‘I think for us is the hope we get an uninterrupted season, and for us as I said earlier that the Futures component and having such a large number of new girls come into our program, it’s just about seeing how they can develop and learn and connect as a group,” she said.

“They’re sort of our success criteria. we don’t talk about or think about where we’re going to end up in positions, we just want the girls to have a really enjoyable experience, but also strive to get the best out of themselves, they’re our goals.”

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