Deer Park has made a roaring start to its chase for a record-extending seventh consecutive premiership in Western Region Football League division 1.
The Lions erased any concerns over a potential bumpy start to the season by opening with two straight wins.
With the Lions starting their pre-season later than most sides after going deep into the 2018 finals and having a host of top-line players unavailable with injuries in the opening fortnight, there was a feeling they could be susceptible to an early upset loss.
Those fears were unfounded as Deer Park posted commanding wins over Caroline Springs and Sunshine in the first two rounds.
“We always have a late start to proceedings [after a premiership] and nothing has changed this year,” Lions’ coach Marc Bullen said.
“We counted that we had 23 unavailable through the seniors and the reserves.
“To win pretty comfortably, with the amount of players unavailable and the injuries we’ve got at the moment, is a pleasing sign, but there’s a lot of work to do going forward.”
There is no doubt that Deer Park was blessed with a favourable draw to open the season.
In recent years, the Lions have had to lock horns with fellow flag contender Altona in round one, which has thrown up some thrilling encounters.
Caroline Springs is an emerging team and Sunshine is finding its way under a new coach – they are not comparable to Altona at this stage of their growth.
“We’ve had Altona the last three years, which is always a challenge, so to have what you’d call an easier draw at the start of the year has been a Godsend to us,” Bullen said.
“We’ve definitely got some huge challenges coming up after the Easter break, though.
“The competition has gone from strength to strength … having a look at some of the results and some of the video replays from the weekend, it’s pleasing to see the strength of the football.”
Deer Park will have some selection headaches in coming weeks.
Premiership stars Jack Purton-Smith, Chris Stewart, Jackson Barling, Rodney Van Riet, James Wong and Jake McKenzie are on track to make their season debuts.
Their absences might have been a blessing in disguise, as Bullen has been thrilled with the performances of young Lions who have been forced to take their games to another level.
“The best three players have been Sohrob Ismail, Mark Galea and Spiros Amarantidis,” he said. “They’ve been super, their pre-seasons were outstanding and they’ve certainly developed as players.
“Our ever-reliable superstar in Kwame McHarg has been pretty impressive, as well.”
Much interest has surrounded the arrival of big name-recruit Jack Redpath and how the forward line would function with him and Jase Perkins in it.
Redpath has kicked seven goals in two games, while Perkins has snared nine – and so far it has clicked.
Though Bullen admits the transition from the midfield to attack needs to get better.
“We’re still a work in progress with our functionality forward of centre,” Bullen said.
Most pleasing has been the team’s hunger to compete. There are no signs of a premiership hangover for the Lions.
“The hunt, the desire and the effort to get the footy off the opposition has been very good in the first couple of rounds,” Bullen said.