Pioneers identify the need for speed

A SHIFT in focus is what earned the Bendigo Pioneers a historic finals appearance last season, and another is in store for 2023. Head coach Danny O’Bree says the regional talent program has identified a need for speed as it looks to cater towards having another slew of graduates drafted to the AFL.

With the shape of the squad slowly filling out on paper, or the magnet board, Bendigo’s bottom-age brigade looks likely to fit the aforementioned bill. Now, there’s the matter of figuring out just where they fit in.

“We keep on changing our focus to (cater for) more AFL types, so that’s what we want to keep looking at,” O’Bree said. “A lot of our bottom-agers give us signs that it could suit them, so we want to put a bit of time and effort into them.

“We just don’t know where they fit in the group yet. I think that’s the exciting part. We’ll have our (practice match) where we’ll try a lot of things and hopefully we can get some good indications before Round 1.

“We’re also looking for a bit more speed this year. Obviously the game tells us that you’ve got to be fast and you’ve got to be able to repeat so many times, so hopefully our profile allows us to play a really exciting brand of footy.”

All eyes will be on Harley Reid in 2023 | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

While the future in Bendigo is bright, there is no secret that the many eyes will be drawn to the program this year for consensus top draft prospect, Harley Reid. After compiling one of the most accomplished under-age resumes, the star midfielder-forward continues to improve, scarily enough.

The 17-year-old cut his teeth in all thirds of the ground last year, but having arguably produced his best moments in the forward half, O’Bree says he’s likely to revert back to a more familiar role.

“He’s very aware with what his RFI’s (room for improvements) are and he’s been really impressive through the preseason, so we see an improvement in him,” O’Bree said. “Probably more off-field, making sure he’s ticking the right boxes and he’s got that attention to detail.

“He’ll play mid-forward predominantly. We’ll obviously assess that every couple of weeks but his running’s improving, which he probably needs to do to be spending more time throughout the midfield.”

Malik Gordon (right) is an exciting type | Image Credit: Rookie Me Central

Reid is Bendigo’s lone National Academy representative, but fellow explosive type Malik Gordon joins him in the Vic Country talent hub. Though the latter is recovering from an offseason setback, he is among the prospects O’Bree is high on.

“Malik had a little bit of a delay to his preseason before Christmas, so he’s only starting to get back into it now,” he said. “It might be a little bit of time before we see him.

Oliver Poole has come back in really good order… and Mitch Doddos is a 19-year-old we haven’t seen before, he’s been really impressive throughout the preseason.”

The Pioneers’ Coates Talent League campaign gets underway on Saturday March 25 with a road trip to Mars Stadium, where the Greater Western Victoria Rebels await.

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