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Hungry for more

THE prospect of becoming the first Division 1 premier in eight years to defend its title is driving Heidelberg during its pre-season campaign.

Not since the Tigers won four consecutive premierships from 2006 to 2009 has an NFL side managed to win back-to-back senior premierships.

After last year breaking a seven-year premiership drought, Heidelberg co-coach Charles Gaylard said his playing group is striving to create more history during the 2017 season.

“It’s extremely hard to go back-to-back as we’ve seen over the past seven to eight years,” Gaylard told NFL.org.au.

“We’re definitely putting in the hard yards and we really want to achieve that this year. It’s going to be highly competitive though.

“We always have a strong focus on our fitness, but we also want everyone to touch the football as much as possible. You can always get better at increasing the skill level of the team.

“We’re looking at ways to score a bit heavier as well. We’re putting that into practice during pre-season.”

Heidelberg’s bid to emulate its 2016 success has been assisted by the addition of former Hawthorn and Essendon forward Sam Grimley and Shepparton United midfielder Shaun Huy.

2015 best and fairest winner Michael Looby and Jake Truefeldt have returned from overseas trips, while Lachlan Wilson – who was best afield in the grand final in just his fourth game – will spend more time with the Tigers as he juggles school football and year 12 commitments.

Gaylard said he has been impressed by Grimley’s dedication during pre-season and expected the big man to play a key role in the forward line this year.

Drafted with pick No.39 in the 2009 AFL National Draft, Grimley played three games for the Hawks in six seasons, before adding another four with the Bombers last year.

He was the VFL leading goal kicker in consecutive seasons in 2014 and 2015, booting 45 and 46 goals respectively.

“He hasn’t missed a session. He’s really agile for someone his size and he looks like being a really good addition to our team. He’s fitted in extremely well,” Gaylard said.

“We’ve seen his track record playing up forward so that will likely be where we play him throughout the year.

“There might be times when he pinch-hits in the ruck but it would be nice to get him working in tandem with a couple of the other guys up forward.

“We might then be able to play DC (Dan Connors) in the midfield a little bit.”

After a dream start to his coaching career, Gaylard said he was again looking forward to working closely with mentor Jason Heatley this season.

Heidelberg announced in December that Heatley had been promoted to the position of co-coach after last year serving as Gaylard’s senior assistant.

Despite the change in title, Gaylard expected little change in the way the coaches operate this year.

“It’s great that he’s come on as co-coach and we’ll have equal responsibility,” he said.

“We worked well together last year so I don’t think a whole lot will change with the way that we work together.”

Echoing the words of his co-coach, Heatley said he was excited about the opportunity to work closely with Gaylard this season.

Heatley confirmed the Tigers would be without premiership duo Jarrod and Luke Hodgkin, while star ruckman Sam Gilmore will be away until the Queen’s Birthday weekend.

Jarrod, a two-time NFL representative player, has been approved a move to Wodonga, while Luke will play with EDFL Division 1 outfit Taylors Lakes.

Heatley said the challenge was now on Heidelberg’s next tier to cement their place in the senior line-up.

“Guys like Jake McNamara, Chaz Sargeant, Dan Cookson all these guys should be ripping the door down to play week in, week out senior footy,” Heatley said.

“Young ‘Irish’ (Lachlan) Wilson is going to be with us full-time along with young (Will) Goss as well and the other Lachy Wilson. We think we’ve got some really exciting players that will put a lot of pressure on our core base.”

Heidelberg begins its premiership defence with a clash against the new-look West Preston-Lakeside at J.E Moore Park in the season opener on April 1.

It looms as a blockbuster match following a fruitful off-season for the Roosters which has seen them sign former AFL players Mathew Stokes, Andrew Walker and Ahmed Saad.

“It’s a great promotion for the league and we’re always happy to be part of those standalone games. Anything we can do to showcase our footy club and the league can only be a positive,” Heatley said.

Photos by Nathan McNeill