By Ryan Long.
The Lions are hitting the reset button ahead of the 2023 season as they plan to turn everything around on and off the field.
The Division Four side went winless last year, finishing on the bottom of the ladder but there’s a strong belief within the four walls of the club that things will improve.
One reason to feel positive about the future of the side is Frank Salanitri, who returns to coach Nunawading for the first time since 2013.
Salanitri was there for the club’s last finals appearance, back in 2012 when the side won ten games in the Home and Away season.
The major focus for Salanitri over the off-season since returning to coach the Lions has been recruiting.
“Unless you have a playing list that’s focused on winning games, you’re not going to get anywhere,” Salanitiri said.
“Rather than be a social club, where you just rock up and have a kick… I’m here to build a list that can be super competitive.”
Nunawading’s new host of recruits include Luke Morris and Beau Parthenides, both members of the VAFA 2022 Team of the Years for Division Two and Four and a series of names from the Manningham Cobras including a former captain Michael Muller.
The side’s set-up in their forward half will certainly look different with last year’s leading goal scorer Brooklyn Gebel-Lamb moving back to Ringwood.
Some of the side’s new recruits will now make up the structure of their forward half.
“We’ve brought in James Morgan at full forward, he’s from South Australia, and he’s a very lively forward.
“Michael Muller’s renowned to kick a lot of goals as a small forward, Konrad Bendrups will be at centre-half forward.”
The new faces at Koonung will also lend a hand to some of the current stars of the Lions team such as Cooper Winter.
Winter finished in the side’s best a total of nine times throughout the season and Salanitri hopes that he’ll have a lot more experience around him to further develop his game.
“Cooper’s going to play a different role, he’s going to have a bit of support around him now.
“In a couple of intra-club matches we’ve had, he’s stood out, still has a lot to learn as far as leadership goes but he’s ticking all the boxes.
“He’s a great user of the footy and maybe we can free him up a bit more.”
The mix of new and existing faces down at Nunawading will provide a big challenge for the club in its opening weeks as everyone gets to know each other and the way they play.
“We might start the season with 16 or 17 new faces in the senior side… if they can all gel and play together, we won’t be far off.
“They need to spend a lot of time together.”
Although it’s been a tough period for the club in recent years, the side certainly made certain improvements on the field to close the gap between them and the other Division Four clubs last year.
The club have clear goals in place to become a much better attacking side and hope that can turn around their on-field results.
“The whole thing about this year is not to get whacked like the way we did… we want to use the footy a lot better than what we did, we want to play more direct attacking footy.
“We think we’re pretty solid down back now and we’ve got nothing to lose.
“If I sat here and said we’d be satisfied with winning two or three games then I’d be lying to you, I wouldn’t be.
The club is also very excited about the developing women’s program after their inaugural season in the Deakin University competition last year.
Nunawading had a great opening season, winning 5 games and only just missing out on a spot in the Division Three Finals.
Senior Women’s coach Trevor Haig has signed on again, excited with the progress of the side which included many girls playing for the first time.
“We were over the moon with how we progressed over the year.
“We had limited numbers at the start and we built them up and became a pretty good football side in the end.”
Numbers have been fairly consistent throughout the pre-season, having a few changes with girls coming both in and out of the side.
“We’ve lost a few, gained a few, then lost a few through pregnancies and injuries then we picked up a few others.
“The girls are just really keen for the year to begin because of how they finished off.”
With most Lions players coming into their second year of footy, it’s a great chance for their side to continue developing their skills.
“We’ve really worked hard on improving their skills… 90 per cent of them, it’s their second season of footy, they have the skill set but it’s trying to get them to do it consistently.”
Two players who are going into their second season with the Lions who Haig believes will have a big season are Miranda Marshall and Lauren Demarte.
“They’ve both been exceptional, their fitness and skills have improved out of sight this year.
“They’re athletes and they can run and carry the footy, it’s going to be great to watch.”
The division last year consisted of multiple teams who were getting a women’s team up and running for the first time. The two standouts were Grand Finalists East Burwood and Croydon North MLOC.
Haig was impressed by the way his side competed for the second time around against both clubs, giving a strong indication of their overall season improvement.
“The first time we played them both, we got beaten by them close to 100 points… after the game, I said to watch and look what they do and see how they go about it.
“The second time we played them, to get within five goals of both of them and play some really competitive footy with them, but also out of that, still learnt where girls position themselves, how to get to the open spots, where to give the ball when you’re in real trouble.
“We took a look out of it, but it was good for our development.”