Following an eight-win 2022 season and an under-19’s premiership, Watsonia senior coach George Lattouf believes the Saints are on the right track to become a formidable side in the MC Labour Division 2 competition.
The Saints were one of the big improvers of last year’s campaign, claiming victory in three of their first five games. They would win a further five matches and fall just two points shy of a spot in the finals.
With pre-season training already underway at Binnak Park, Lattouf is hoping his side can pick up where they left off.
“We want to use this pre-season to continue to grow together as a group and continue to grow and work with our gameplans and our structures because it’s going to be really important for us, especially prior to the upcoming practice matches,” he said.
“We’ve got a very good culture at our club which helps a lot with what we want to do, and there’s a lot of buy in from the playing group, the coaches and the whole club in general.”
The club’s major highlight of 2022 came from their under-19’s side, who won the Division 3 under-19’s premiership.
The Saints finished the year in third spot with an 11-6 record and would then go on to win all three finals to collect Watsonia’s first thirds/under-19’s flag since 1977.
Lattouf stressed the importance of continuing to build off the back of their success, saying the benefits of doing so will not only come for the senior side, but for the whole club in general.
“When we tried to get the side together last year, we only had about 10-12 players, but the best recruiters are the players themselves and they helped build it up to what it is,” he said.
“In our senior group, we’ve got 19 and 20-year old’s playing senior football so that kind of development is really important for our football club.
“The under-19’s program plays a big role for us to continue to compete at a senior level, they are the backbone and so we’re making sure we’re working really hard to invest all our time into these kids and continue that journey for them.”
Watsonia have been able to re-sign the majority of their list, but they will head into 2023 without their leading goalkicker and Team of the Year forward Kyle Wheatley after he signed with Bundoora.
The 21-year-old kicked 62 goals in his last 24 games for the Saints, 43 of those coming throughout the 2022 campaign where he finished fifth in the league’s goalkicking charts.
Lattouf praised Wheatley’s efforts during his time at the club, saying he deserves his opportunity at a higher level.
“I get really excited when I see a talented player that’s still young and puts his hand up in wanting to play Division 1 football and take things to the next level, and I encourage that as well, so I’m rapt he’s getting that opportunity,” he said.
“I know we’ve lost someone that can kick a lot of goals but I’m not a coach that resents anyone for that, I like seeing them make progress and he’s gone to Bundoora which is a really good football club and I hope he smashes it there.
Despite his departure, Lattouf is confident they will be capable of filling the void that Wheatley leaves inside 50.
“There are always replacements, we’ve got some creative small forwards that we’ve been working with so we might lose one, but there’s always guys ready to replace them,” he said.
One player who will potentially find his way into Wheatley’s role in 2023 is former Saints captain Adrian Alfonsi who is set to return to senior football this year.
The 2016 premiership player played five games in the reserves last season following successful knee surgery, kicking 15 majors in that period. His first match since Round 5, 2021 will be his 50th senior game for the Saints.
A popular member of the side, Lattouf is pumped to have Alfonsi at his disposal this year.
“He’s one of the most loved guys at the footy club, when I started at the club as a coach, he was my captain and he’s just been sensational. He’s had a big pre-season and he’s like another new recruit for us who’s ready to play senior football,” he said.
“Adrian is a good man and that’s what we want at our football club, good people, I look at that before I look at them as a footballer and he’s one of them and the players just love him at the club.
“What’s encouraging with him at the moment is, he’s done the right things about his rehab, he’s done everything he can and I’m hoping he’s ready for Round 1.”