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Curley impressed by hungry, motivated Bulldogs coming into 2017

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 - 5:07 PM by Chris Pike

SOUTH Fremantle coach Todd Curley has been impressed with the way his playing group has tackled pre-season on the back of a finals appearance in 2016 and he sees a hunger in them to suggest they are ready to improve further in 2017.

For the first time since 2011, South Fremantle made the WAFL finals in 2016.

Then to start things off won a first final since the 2009 premiership decider by beating West Perth at Fremantle Community Bank Oval in the qualifying final.

While the Bulldogs season would end with losses at the hands of grand finalists Subiaco and Peel Thunder, it was a significant leap forward by South Fremantle in what was Curley's second season in charge.

Stability in the playing group was maintained over summer with the player losses kept to a minimum while premiership small forward Cory Dell'Olio returns while young ruckman Jake Solomon is on board to add some depth to the Bulldogs' big men department.

Curley couldn’t have been happier with the players' response over summer on the back of that finals appearance and has every reason to expect to see further improvement from them in 2017.

"They certainly came back in better shape than they have in the past so that’s probably a bit of maturity within the group," Curley said.

"They’re really driven and they know they’ve got a lot of work ahead of them to qualify and to get themselves back in a situation to have another chance. Nothing will change from that part.

"We’ll have a crack at qualifying as quick as we can and hopefully that’s halfway through the year or three quarters of the way through the year.

"But qualify firstly and then I think having not played finals for a while, they learned a fair bit last year that you’ve got to be at your best on the day in finals or you come up short. You’ve got to take your chances."

While the likes of Tim English, Bailey Matera, Brad McPhail, Jesse Mirco and Jordan Matera are among the list of departures from South Fremantle coming into 2017, none of them were regular members of the league team in 2016 and Mirco and Jordan Matera hadn't made their debut.

There is never going to be a season without a degree of turnover, but Curley is happy with the players the Bulldogs have retained and with the young group coming through.

"There’s always still a fair bit of turnover but our core senior group have stayed together and we’ve got a real injection from the colts this year with up to a dozen that have come through," he said.

"They have trained well so there is a couple that put their hand up early, and we might have a look at them early. But we’re in good shape we think but you never know until it all starts for real."

Dell'Olio is a more than popular returnee to South Fremantle in 2017 after being forced to sit out all of 2016 following his comeback season to the Bulldogs in 2015 on the back of his AFL career with Essendon.

With 74 games and 142 games under his belt, the premiership player, dual state representative and two-time leading goalkicker is looking to make his mark again in 2017 and Curley is confident he will be able to.

"He is mentally obviously very fresh and he is training well," Curley said.

"He is being really smart and we’ve been pretty cautious with him as well about how we integrate him back in. But he has prepared really well and he's a really experienced player, and a quality player so it’s good to have him back."

Ryan Cook is already South Fremantle's longest ever serving captain and he will again lead the Bulldogs in 2017 while Ben Saunders, Mason Shaw and Chris Luff have been added to the leadership group.

Curley is happy with the leaders he has in the playing group.

"There’s a couple of little changes but Cook was obviously out and out unanimous voted captain. He has grown into a very good leader and Josh Pullman has around him. I think there’s seven in the leadership group so Ben Saunders gets his chance, Mason Shaw and Chris Luff do too," he said.

"They have been really good and I think last year we had a lot of injuries to our leaders. Ashton Hams missed a fair bit of footy last year, so did Schloithe and that forced us to bring other leaders into the leadership group.

"We think we’ve got quite a broad field of our leadership group. Jarrod Parry will come back in. Adam McIntosh will come back from his broken ankle so we think we are in pretty good shape."

Heading into his third season coaching South Fremantle, Curley is feeling good about things and with the support staff he has helping him out.

"I'm feeling good and I'm obviously excited that the games are starting as well having got through that pre-season phase. It'll be good to get the season started" Curley said.

"There's a couple of little changes but we’ve been pretty stable in that area as well which is really good.

"It's good for the players, good for the relationships so I think everyone around the place felt that the summer is long so everyone’s eager to see the things that we’ve practiced and hopefully that we’ve improved."