WODONGA coach Ben Hollands believes his team’s apprenticeship is over.
Since grabbing the dubious honour of leading the Bulldogs to their first wooden spoon in 2011, Hollands has rebuilt the team from the ground up to the stage where the former Richmond player is optimistic of breaking into the top five.
“We have finished sixth and seventh the last two years and I would be disappointed if we can’t bridge that gap and play finals footy this year,” Hollands said.
“We think we have a better squad.
“There is a bit more experience in the side and I think we are better balanced with more speed and flexibility.
“The time is right for us. “We have put games into our kids with a core group having played 30 to 50 games.
“All that suggests we should bridge the gap and play finals footy.”
While there isn’t a coach in the Ovens and Murray who doesn’t think his team can play finals, Hollands puts forward a reasonable case for the Bulldogs.
They finished seventh despite suffering one, two, seven, eight and 13-point losses last season and recruits John Pratt, Tyson Price, Andrew Carter, Zach Jones and Jared Worsteling make them stronger on paper.
Saying that, the same can be said about Wodonga Raiders and Corowa-Rutherglen, who also missed the finals.
“There seems like there has been more ins than outs of the competition over the off-season,” Hollands said.
“You don’t want to be on the wrong end of the close games like we and a couple of other sides were last season.
“It’s going to be very competitive for spots in the lower half of the top five.
“We changed things in our game plan in the second half of last season and we will stick with those changes as it seemed to work well for us.”
The biggest obstacle could be a mounting injury list at John Flower Oval.
Before a ball has been bounced, Wodonga has been struck by injuries to ruckman Sam Maher and youngsters Jack Stefani and Jack Elkington (osteitis pubis), Matt Seiter (knee) and utilities Sam Wortmann (broken ankle) and Dylan Beattie (broken finger).
All are in some doubt to play in round 1 against Lavington under lights on April 5.
“It’s been frustrating,” Hollands said.
“There are a fair few in the rehab group already, but hopefully the worst is behind us.”