Western Crusaders have gone a perfect 10-0 during the Grid Iron Victoria division 1 regular season and will head into the playoffs as the raging hot favourites to take out Vic Bowl XXXIII.
The Crusaders made it 10-from-10 with a gritty 14-0 win over Monash Warriors in the final round at Monash University on Sunday, setting up a semi-final showdown with the fourth-ranked Croydon Rangers on home soil at Henry Turner Reserve on October 8.
Crusaders head coach Craig Wilson said the foundations for the minor premiership were planted last season, which ended in Vic Bowl heartbreak with a nail-biting 16-12 loss to the Warriors.
“We’ve really consolidated all the work we did last year,” Wilson said.
“All of our guys from last year are back with another year of experience under their belt with these systems, so it’s made a big difference.
“Last year, we were trying to put the football knowledge into them, this year their football IQ is really high.
“They know what they’re doing … they know how to diagnose their problems and know how to read the other team.”
Western Crusaders have not lost a game since last year’s Vic Bowl.
The Crusaders have shown a real appetite to complete their unfinished business and secure a first title since 2007.
Rather than being overwhelmed with disappointment stemming from last year’s Vic Bowl defeat, the Crusaders have looked back on it as a learning experience.
“I thought we performed really well and came quite close,” Wilson said.
“We shut them out on the second half and only lost by four points.
“What it came down to was showing the guys that you only get a small amount of chances to make a difference in the game and if you don’t make the most of them, you run out of time.
“I think the guys have seen how close we got and just said what can I do to put me over the top for next year, if I do a little bit extra, will it make the difference and that’s why I think the guys have been so good this year.”
Western Crusaders have been strengthened with some important acquisitions in the off season. The Crusaders brought in a new quarterback in Andrew Healy, offensive tackle Mark Clampitt and linebacker Ken Bennett.
Healy is an experienced import who has a sure hand and a level head in the clutch moments.
“He’s a great runner and he’s got a really strong arm, it’s very powerful,” Wilson said.
Clampitt has shown tremendous leadership qualities in his first season with the Crusaders.
It’s no surprise when you consider he was a team captain at Idaho State University.
“The guys respect him and he really adds some knowledge on the offensive line,” Wilson said.
“He’s just got that American work ethic, turns up every training session, real quiet and unassuming and just gets on with it.
“He’s a great role model for those boys.”
Bennett has added muscle to the Crusaders defensive game.
“He’s very big, very strong and he’s another guy who it doesn’t matter what you ask him to do, he just does it,” Wilson said.
“He’s got no ego and just gets on with his job.”