LAST year the Weekly introduced the North West Wolves as a "suburban sporting phenomenon". Now after a year in the Victorian Rugby League, there's little doubt that this club is the real deal. Teo Pellizzeri headed down to the Wolves den to preview this season.
IT'S Saturday afternoon at AJ Davis Reserve in Niddrie and North West Wolves president Ross Christensen is watching the senior team play an intra-club match.
A young man in kit and boots walks up and asks for a game. Christensen sends him to put his name down on a list and head to the bench.
"That's another new player ... I've never seen him before," Christensen says.
Word has got out about the North West Wolves and players are coming in droves.
With 80 new registrations for the season, most of them senior players, the Wolves are well ahead of schedule to grow into the club they aspired to become when launching last year.
"We're 200 players further advanced than we thought we'd be. I think the next 12 months is about taking the game to a wider population.
"People can come here and watch for free, in an environment which is family oriented, and see that rugby league, which they might have watched on TV, is a good game."
ONE MORE HURDLE
SUNBURY United Tigers got the better of the Wolves in last year's grand final, having the final say in an instant rivalry.
While the club's development pathways are important, there is little doubt that grand final defeat still stings at the Wolves.
"You can't grow something if you're coming last," Christensen said. "If you want to set the pace you've got to be a leader ... year one the aim was to make the finals, year two the aim was to make the grand final.
"We're here to win, no doubt about that. And this year we've identified three of our junior teams who should do really well as well."
FORMER NRL first-grade player Tristan Brady-Smith is stepping up to be the Wolves coach this season after coming on board as an assistant last year.
The former Perth Reds and Melbourne Storm player retired from the professional game in his mid-20s to focus on business opportunities and now, running his own company, is stepping into his first senior coaching role at age 35.
"Last year we didn't have an actual preseason so this year we've done a lot of hard work," he said. "I expect the boys to turn up and give 100per cent at training, and I expect them to win the competition."
Former Sydney Roosters player Dallas Hood and last year's coach Ash Lafranchi are Brady-Smith's assistants this season.
Hood played 72 first-grade games for the Roosters including the 2000 NRL grand final.
"For Dallas everything is about winning, setting the tone and leading by example," Christensen said.
"Ash has aspirations of coaching at a higher level and is a good development coach, he's good with people. Tristan is very driven and strategic in his approach."
Brady-Smith said he expects to see a better team this season than the one that lost last year's grand final.
"I've given everyone over the off-season the chance to do the hard work," he said.
"There's definitely potential here [in VRL] but there has to be infrastructure from the VRL to ensure there's good coaching at local level to give players the best opportunity to develop.
THE Wolves surprised their VRL opponents with interstate and international recruits last season and have again made the most of the club's business connections to draw from a wide talent pool.
This year web video was important in unearthing players like half-back Brendan Sing from the Central Coast and Scottish full-back Nicholas Broere.
A number of Melbourne-based players have also made the switch to the Wolves.
"It's a lot of work with all the new faces and names, a lot of people are still 'bro' or 'cuz' right now," club captain Eugene Mihaere said.
"It's good to see so many people getting down to the club."
Mihaere, a five-eighth, was also playing with a different VRL club, Werribee, before time out of the game and then a return to the field with the Wolves.
"A lot of people who haven't played rugby league before are down here as well," he said.
"When things get asked from coaches, we've got to put our hands up and do the task."
Hooker Tom Webb will be first grade captain for the Wolves this season.
MELBOURNE Storm legend Matt Geyer will don the Wolves colours on May 26 in a coup for the club as it looks to reach the rugby league community to draw in game-day support.
The Storm's record games player is a former teammate of coach Brady-Smith and played 262 games before leaving NRL in 2008.
Now 36, Geyer will also be the guest speaker at the Wolves' business lunch on May 23rd.
Lunch bookings can be made at northwestwolves
@hotmail.com or Sheryl on 0417567507.