By Josh Ward.
They’ve had to deal with many tight finishes to begin 2023 but North Ringwood has come out stronger because of it.
The past month has seen the Saints deal with many heartstopping finishes, with their last three wins being decided by three points or less.
Senior playing coach Robin Nahas said it was pleasing to finish on top in those close games.
“It’s fantastic to win the tight ones, it’s probably not too fantastic to coach the tight ones or play in them,” Nahas said.
“At the same time, it’s a good learning curve to stick fat, be challenged and win. As a coach you’re quite happy with the result and the commitment to the course so can’t complain.”
All three wins have come under different circumstances for the Saints, with last weekend seeing them come from behind at Half Time to win against Beaconsfield.
“We nearly lost (the game) in that last quarter but we had a young kid in his first game kick a goal from 40 metres out close to the boundary, which is a fantastic effort by Ben Sandilands.”
It’s been a solid start on return to Division One for the Saints who now sit in sixth with an even 4-4 record. Despite the start, Nahas believes that the young group can continue to improve this season as they start to build a winning culture.
“At the moment they’re starting to believe ‘hang on a second, we can actually (do well)’. And winning the tight ones are really important, but I think the games we’ve won I think we’ve played a lot better to be in a better position throughout the game.”
There have been many young stars that have shone brightly throughout this season for the Saints according to Nahas, particularly the defensive group.
“Not everyone speaks about Lachlan O’Donnell but he just does his job every single week. He can play 19s still, he plays in a very experienced backline, and we’ve got the likes of Dylan Van Unen, Michael Locco & Matt Payne our captain directing and helping him.
“He’s fantastic, doesn’t lose one-on-ones, and is really competitive. Corey Church is the same in the backline, he’s doing extremely well, another one that can play 19s.
“And Ben Livingstone is an absolute superstar, every time I’ve spoken to anyone and I said in the preseason that this kid is special and he’s showing it every week.”
But it isn’t just the young defenders that are getting Nahas excited about the future of the Saints.
“Tom Jackson our ruckman, he’s 19 and people know how long it takes ruckmen to develop, each week he gets bashed but he just gets up and goes again. He’ll be the first one to admit I’m always riding him but he’s starting to understand what it takes to play senior footy.
“Jesse Meikle as well, he’s been fantastic, he’s been very good for us. He’s another 19-year-old that’s got plenty to give and he’s getting better every week so the future’s bright.”
Some of the more experienced players have also played key roles, including new midfield playing coach Aaron Fenton.
“He’s taken that (coaching role) on really well and I think he’s growing into his role. He’d be the first one to admit and I think that he’s got another level to get to this year.
“He’s a super player, he keeps getting better and he knows once he gets the balance right then that back half of the season I’m expecting big things from Aaron.”
Whilst they’ve started the season off strongly, Nahas believes that there can be improvements made in capitalising on chances during their periods of dominance to put more scoreboard pressure on opposition.
“We’ve got a lot to improve on the offensive side of our game just to capitalise on our momentum, our shots on goal and our chances. Defensively you can see we’ve been rock solid and that’s built on Michael Locco, Dylan Van Unen and Ben Livingstone.
“I think the back half of the season we should see a lot more improvement on the areas of our game we need to improve on. But 4-4 gives us a chance to play finals and that’s all I can ask for with these guys.”
This coming weekend sees the young Saints come up against North Ringwood premiership mentor Brett Moyle and his Wantirna South side at Walker Reserve, with Nahas excited about facing another test.
“Our guys have stepped up to every challenge bare two this year and it’s another challenge on the road, we struggle a little bit away from home. I know the boys will come out with the right attitude and give it a red-hot crack.”