DEFENSIVE coordinator Jade Rawlings says Melbourne’s JLT Community Series clash against the West Coast Eagles at Domain Stadium on Thursday night is just the preparation the side needs before round one.
Rawlings said there were several tests Melbourne needed to encounter before it opens its 2017 premiership season against St Kilda at Etihad Stadium on Saturday, March 25.
“Traveling to Perth is challenging, and conditions at this time of the year are generally challenging, and the third practice match is generally a dress rehearsal for round one, and most clubs treat it that way,” he told melbournefc.com.au.
“It’s an ideal opportunity for us to test what we’ve done throughout the whole summer, as much as the last two games.
“We’ll get some good feedback around how it sits against a quality opposition.”
With Jay Kennedy-Harris (broken arm), Michael Hibberd (Achilles) and Aaron vandenBerg (heel) missing from this round’s JLT game, Rawlings said the absence of some key personnel was another obstacle the team needed to overcome.
“We had a good two-week block of JLT [matches] and a week with the community camp, where we got some really some really effective training sessions in and we had another good one on Monday,” he said.
“We’ve lost a couple of players [through injury], which is unfortunate, but the way we train and play asks a lot of the players and they’ve got to build up their bodies to endure and absorb how we play.
“It’s unfortunate we’ve lost a couple, but a couple more get exposed to an opportunity with round one looming, so plenty of opportunity lies ahead for our players who are playing in Perth.”
With wins coming against the Western Bulldogs and Carlton respectively in Melbourne’s first two JLT matches, Rawlings said there were several “positive signs” to emerge early in the year.
“A lot of things we’ve been putting into training have been coming out in games, but we still feel there are some elements to our game that need fine tuning, which I’m sure every club would be saying at this time of the year,” he said.
“From a competitive base level, and things that we want executed by the players, there has been a really consistent spread by individuals across both games so far.
“We’ve been quite sound so far in how we’ve been able to limit the opposition’s ball movement – and not as effectively as they would’ve liked. It’s an area we’ve put a fair bit of time into this summer, so it’s quite pleasing the way the team is defending at this stage.”
Now in his sixth season with Melbourne, Rawlings said he had seen genuine improvement in the squad this pre-season.
“The group’s maturity has been really pleasing and its capacity to take on more work this pre-season, from a physical load,” he said.
“I think their capacity to take in the full club development of what it takes to play and represent Melbourne [has been encouraging] and there has been a lot of growth in that area as well.
“Goody (Simon Goodwin) has been fantastic at leading from the front, [in terms] of the opportunity of what it looks like to represent and play for Melbourne. We’ve done a lot of work throughout the summer as a group and that’s what I’ve been most pleased with.”
Rawlings couldn’t speak highly enough of Goodwin’s evolution into the senior coaching role.
“I think he’s fully embraced the role and he’s very comfortable with the role. He’s had a couple of years’ prep, and anyone who has worked with him or played under him would say he was definitely ready, when it was his time,” he said.
“He’s really great to work with and he’s a great mate of mine – as much as I love working with him. I know the players and other staff feel exactly the same way, so it’s a great place to be and he’s builds an environment that demands a lot of every individual, but there is a lot of enjoyment along the way.
“So far, he’s absolutely jumped into the role and he’s very adept at what he does.”