NFC Senior Men

NFC Coach Jade Rawlings Previews 2024 SANFL Season

Norwood coach Jade Rawlings, right, and captain Jacob Kennerley. Photo: David Mariuz.

Norwood will get its 2024 SANFL campaign underway this week with an Easter Thursday blockbuster against Sturt at Coopers Stadium.

Last year’s co-captain Jacob Kennerley will lead as sole skipper in 2024, while Jade Rawlings heads into his fourth season as head coach.

Rawlings said his side was ready to hit the ground running on Thursday night.

“Optimism is what we’re all after going into a season and I think our people, both internally and hopefully our membership base and supporters have real optimism about 2024,” he said.

“I think our staff and coaching group have done a great job. Scott Bassett and his conditioning team have been able to condition the players to a level where they’re mentally and physically ready for the season.

“Thursday night, Round 1 – I think the Easter Thursday is a great time slot and the SANFL does a great job to have all games done by Friday night of Easter.

“For us to lead it off, it’s fantastic for our club and given the forecast I think it’s going to lend itself to a big crowd and yeah, all of us going into 2024 with a lot of optimism about what our players and our team can do and hopefully get off on the right foot.

“I’m really hoping players get to play in front of a big crowd.”

In additional to on-field recruits, Rawlings has bolstered his coaching staff, with Jesse Lonergan, Ben Patrick, Shane Hickey and Aaron Jelfs (Reserves head coach) joining the fold.

“We’re lucky that we’ve got some terrific people around the playing group to support them as much as possible, and give themselves the best chance to be the best player they can be,” he said.

“You go back to where we were in October last year and reviewing our 2023 season – where we stood with our playing list, staffing, conditioning, and planning for what we required to be at the start line ready to go in 2024, to get to this point and feel ready to go is very reassuring.”

Several new players will be running around in a Norwood guernsey for the first time this season, including: Ben Simpson (North Launceston), Mitch O’Neill (South Adelaide), Billy Cootee (Essendon VFL), Jordon Boyle (West Adelaide), Dom White (North Hobart), Joeve Cooper (Murray Bushrangers), Zach Morris (Northern Bullants), Josh Gillow (Launceston), George McLeod (Sturt), Lachie Bates (Langhorne Creek),  Jordan Neal (Prince Alfred College OC), Henry Slade (Orroroo) and Marco D’Annunzio (Glenunga).

Henry Nelligan, Alastair Lord (Essendon) and Cooper Murley (Collingwood) are also returning to the club in 2024, with Lord and Murley yet to make their SANFL debuts, having being drafted from their U18 season.

Jacob Jones, Calem Krollig and Darci Best have joined the Senior Men’s squad for their first Senior pre-season out of the U18s.

“I feel like our list is really deep,” Rawlings said.

“There are a lot of players who can play senior footy, which is a great position for the club to be in, and some of that is through internal growth of our players, some through acquisition from outside the club.

“An important part of being competitive is how we recruit. I want our people to be able to see our players wearing a Norwood jumper and identify with those players because we’re educating them to what it takes to be a Norwood player and person – through their deeds and actions and hopefully they’ll really warm to our new players.”

The club endured a rough injury toll at the beginning of last season, and Rawlings said this year had been a different story.

“If we want to draw a comparison to last year, there was a lot of guys who got to the start of the 2023 season not physically ready to play, so we were on the back foot,” he said.

“This year there will be 52, 53 players available for selection round one, and 95% of those are conditioned, ready to play. Not just coming back from injury, they’re conditioned, ready to play.

“We’ve got a healthy group, we’ve still got a few long term injuries, which has been through natural cause and incident, which has been out of our control, but to have the amount of players available and ready to go, gives us as a Senior and Reserves team the best possible chance to start the season strongly.

“A fit and strong list allows you to compete, and I’m talking about both competing against the opposition and for spots in the team.”

“That’s an indication of depth, you have to earn your stripes and be playing at a high level to get a game.”

“We ended up playing 24 players in our second trial against South – Harry Boyd didn’t play, so Harry will come back in Round 1 and so we think there’s 30 to 32  players who can make a really strong case now that they should be playing Round 1 and then that’s notwithstanding Jack Saunders, Cory Stockdale, Ethan Warburton, Oliver Sanders, Cam Taheny, Max Hodges and Pat Walker who are unavailable due to injury.”

Trial Match Form

Rawlings said his side gained a lot from the two trial match victories against North Adelaide at Coopers Stadium, and South Adelaide in Noarlunga.

“We took a lot out of the first trial against North, because there was a lot of challenges. It was 38° by the second quarter. I didn’t think we played that well, but we kept a pretty good team to 50 points, and we found a way to win that game for whatever it matters – winning’s a habit,” he said.

“So we took a lot out of it. Our learning and education from the North game definitely had an impact on how we trained, which then came out in our South game.

“We always like to have one of our practice matches away, if not two, to get used to the foreign environment – a really good test case for us as well, and I thought we showed some really positive signs.

“There were still a couple of drop offs that I was a bit frustrated at, but, we’re getting to see the likes of Simpson, O’Neill, Cootee, Boyle and McLeod play with Kennerley, Matt Panos, Tom Donnelly, and Baynen Lowe – getting used to the guys who’ve never played together before, so the chemistry side is what we’ve been trying to establish through the couple of games, but most of all with our training.

“We took the practice match period, including our internal trial, we were able to get a lot of players exposed to a lot of positions, a lot of minutes, and we were able to feel stressed as well. It’s a weird thing to say, but I wanted us to feel stressed through the practice matches. See how we can deal with it and what we can put in place to combat that.”

Off-Season Recruits

Mitch O’Neill (South Adelaide – Midfield) – “Mitch has been outstanding, he’s embracing of the program and how we play, he hasn’t missed a session, he’s got fitter and stronger. He’s already a high end player in this comp before he came to us, and hopefully we can bring him to life even more,” Rawlings said.

Billy Cootee (Essendon VFL – Midfield/Forward) – “Billy’s had a really good summer. He’s a  charismatic guy, people like him. He’s able to have touch points all around the club. He’s a hard worker.  He’s played to a reasonable level at VFL in Essendon over the last 12 months, so he came to us pretty ready to go, but off ankle surgery as well. So, the way he’s been able to condition himself and show some real versatility in his play has been great. He’s got genuine midfield quality, but he’s got forward traits as well. So we’ll see him fluctuate between the two areas of the ground. He’s got natural leadership as well, so we feel lucky that Ben Simpson and Cootee come to us as natural leaders in their previous clubs and they’ve been able to bring that to life already with us.”

Cooper Murley & Alastair Lord (Returning from Collingwood AFL & Essendon AFL) – “It shouldn’t just be taken for granted that they’re going to come back to our club. We have to still present  opportunities as to why they want to come back.  I’ve been really pleased with the uptake. It’s not easy to go away to Melbourne and have an AFL career for two years and then come back.”

“But both Lord and Murley have really bought into us and fit into our group well.”

Henry Nelligan (Returned to Norwood – Small Forward) – “I probably underestimated it, but from the ’22 Premiership side we had lost Jay Rantall, Jackson Kelly, and Nelligan. And you look at the three of them, they’re all really important players for us. They just fit it in. They’re loved by their teammates. Played important positions. So, having Nelligan back has been really good.

“He’s very popular. We love him. He’s really grown in his game, his fitness is his strength. So, yeah, we have high hopes for Henry’s growth this year. He looks like he hasn’t missed a beat at all, even to come back and play a few Reserves games back in the last year, he was deconditioned, but he still played well.”

Jordan Neal (PAC – Ruck) – “When you think about how hard and demanding the summer is, he’s come from amateur footy with PAC, off a Div 1 grand final win, to not miss a session is a big effort. And  he’s undersized in height, but he’s not through grit and determination and athleticism. So, he got exposed to Mitch Harvey and Oliver Megins who’s a pretty good ruck as well.”

Dom White (North Hobart – Midfield) – “Dom White’s come over from North Hobart and he’s a high end aerobic athlete. He’s played in the wing, shown us lots of good stuff.

George McLeod (Sturt – Defender) – “George McLeod played at Sturt last year, about five Reserves games, so, for him to come and play two senior trials with us shows how much he’s grown with his footy. We find him a really reliable player defensively, but he’s quite creative with the ball. He’s a terrific character, as are all the guys I just spoke about. So, they’re very popular with the playing group.”


Mitch O’Neill

Players stepping up

Rawlings said the likes of Matt Ling (18 SANFL games), Jackson Callow (13 SANFL games), Finn Heard (yet to debut) and Izaak Twelftree (two SANFL games) had taken their games to a new level.

Matt Ling (Wing/Half Back) – “Lingy probably took a little while to adapt to SANFL in his first season last year and we were obviously struggling at the start of 2023,” Rawlings said.

“It was hard for new recruit to come in and just nail it from Round 1, but once we put him a half back in Round 8 last year, we thought his footy was pretty strong, and then his professionalism, work ethic, his leadership comes with it.

“He was a leader at Geelong VFL and it’s starting to come out more. Those who have watched the last couple of weeks have seen some really impactful play from Matt. Yeah, he’s a really important player, leader and person around everything.”

Izaak Twelftree (Tall Forward) – “We find that the tall forwards area is a very competitive area on our list when you have Connor McLean, Tristan Binder, Liam Robinson, Finn Heard, Twelftree, Jackson Callow, Luke Surman, Damon Pitt and Goy Lok. There’s a fair few guys there.

“Twelftree has shown a lot. He played a couple of games last year, but he’s had a high-end summer. He’s grown his game a lot and we’re starting to believe that he can be a senior player.

Finn Heard (Tall Forward/Ruck) – “Finn Heard’s a great story. He’s been with us for three years, going into his fourth season and hasn’t played senior footy yet.

“There’s an opportunity there with a forward second ruck. He’s had the first look at it through the two trials and hasn’t disappointed.”

Jackson Callow (Tall Forward) – “Callow’s a key for us, both as a key forward, as a competitor, as a person, and as a young leader. The boys love him, they love playing with him. He’s popular off the field, but he really cares about our club and that’s reflective of him coming straight back here after being delisted from Hawthorn. So, I think most people would say having a good ruck, and a strong midfield and reliable back line is key, but if you’ve got a strong key forward, they are worth their weight in gold.”