Bombers strive to end finals drought

Sports reporter PHIL EDWARDS continues his preview of State League clubs and their prospects for the upcoming season, this time sitting down with Northern Bombers coach Zane Littlejohn.

THE Northern Bombers hope 2014 will see an end to their Tasmanian State League finals drought.

Apart from a rare elimination final appearance in 2010 under coach Paul Atkins, which the club lost to North Hobart, final's pickings have been slim for the former Statewide League powerhouse.

North Launceston coach Zane Littlejohn knows it is time to do something about that.

"I think we should play finals footy," he said.

"I think we have to be realistic and that has to be a goal of ours - if we do what we know we want to do and develop that culture we have been trying to work on since 2012 we should definitely see some success.

"We were good last year in games and we just have to learn to win games and hopefully our group will have the confidence to be able to do that."

Littlejohn was unsure how the loss of experienced players such as Darren Crawford, Shane Wager, Leigh Harding and Adam Viney, and young talent Toby Nankervis to the AFL, will affect his team in the upcoming TSL season.

But he believes the departure of those players means opportunities will open up for other players to fill the void.

"How we'll go we don't know because we haven't played a game yet without them all," he said.

"We'll know pretty early but one thing we have noticed in our training and intraclub so far is that it has made other guys step up and be leaders and not rely on the more experienced guys.

"We're trying to encourage everyone to be leaders among our group no matter how long they have been here."

Line coaches Paul Holmes (defence), former premiership player and Carlton recruit Anthony Loone (midfield) and former Old Scotch premiership player Will Tatchell (forwards) will assist Littlejohn as he plots a path to finals.

"We're trying to encourage everyone to be leaders among our group no matter how long they have been here."

They will have development coaches under them - put in place this year to work individually with players one on one with former player and coach Chris Whitford (midfield), Brett Mansell (forward) and experienced player Geoff Mohr (defence) taking on the roles.

Former colts coach Adrian Smith slots into a more senior role as opposition and game analysis expert.

Littlejohn is wary of tinkering too much with the Bombers game plan but knows there are areas where his side will have to improve.

"I don't think you can tinker too much and with this group we will keep it pretty simple and play much the same way we have in previous seasons," he said.

"But we have to hit the scoreboard.

"If you look at the stats from last year we were the only side outside the five with a 100-plus percentage so defensively we were really good and third or fourth with the lowest score against.

"We spent a lot of time on that for the last few years so this preseason we've looked at how we can attack the footy and move the footy a lot more and ideally hit the scoreboard a lot more.

"That is going to be a focus because you have to kick goals to win games.

"People will say you've lost two forwards in Crawford and Nankervis but we've looked at different ways and other avenues to goal and that will have to be a big improvement."

The Bombers will be without talented young prospect Jay Foon who broke a leg during preseason but are hopeful of regaining key midfielder Callen Young.

"We've got Cal Young coming back from breaking his leg in the second last game of last season and he has been professional in his recovery and his process is coming along nicely but we're still not sure how long it will be before he plays," Littlejohn said.

"We've done things a bit differently and we had a camp before Christmas and one after and numbers have been fantastic and we can't complain."

Littlejohn was still pondering who would fill his key position spots.

"Mitchell Van Den Berg I think is one of the best key forwards in the comp and was unlucky not to make the state side last year at the senior level.

"He can play key position and catches the footy quite well and with another year under his belt and being a leader at our footy club he will be better for it.

"In our back six we're comfortable we've got some good players - Cairns, Mohr and Worn coming into the group and Corey Nankervis, Toby's older brother, is another who can come in and play a key position if he has to.

"Rooza might spend a bit more time forward and is a bit more agile after losing 10 kilograms.

"To support him in the ruck we've got some young boys coming through and ideally we would have liked to have recruited another ruckman but we will manufacture that and there will be a variety of people play that role depending on who we play."

He expected Clarence and Burnie to be among the frontrunners this season and said the Western Storm could not be discounted.

"They would still have to aim high as last year's premiers - sure they've lost Mitch and few other boys but they will be competitive and I watched them play Devonport and they moved the footy really well and Hillsy has got them going well.

"Lauderdale is always tough and it's a bit of an unknown along with Kingborough and Hobart City and how they will go.

"I've got no doubt that Lonnie under Scott Stephens will be really professional and well-driven and I think this year it will be really even."

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