STATE LEAGUE ONE
By Samuel Darroch
SIX homegrown players feature in a reinforced Morwell Pegasus outfit set to begin its State League Division One South-East campaign this weekend.
Having jumped up a division with the introduction of the National Premier League, Pegasus is now poised just two rungs below the A-League.
“There’s a much bigger status about it now (being in State League One). We’re one division under the National Premier League,” incoming coach Luke Cheney said.
“There’s more drive there now… you’ll get NPL teams coming to watch, coaches trying to pick up players, so there’s plenty of opportunities for young players to impress.
“Bottom line is it’s NPL then A-League, that’s the reality.”
As far as the competition goes the promotion is largely cosmetic.
Eight teams from last season’s State League Two South-East are in the mix, while division three sides Casey Comets and Doncaster Rovers have also been elevated.
State League One side Eastern Lions remains in the top division and Southern Stars, which was embroiled in a Victorian Premier League match fixing scandal last season, fills out the roster.
Cheney has bolstered the Horsemen’s stable, with numbers in the mid 30s to fill the seniors and reserves, and has formed a predominantly Valley-based seconds team.
Four locals, Coen Slaughter (Monash), John Kuol (Traralgon City), Hayden Ross-Schultz and co-captain Steve Maselli, are tipped to make the senior list for round one against Noble Park, as Cheney seeks to promote local talent.
“These guys have stepped up and wanting to have a crack at it so I’ll be giving them a go; they’ve looked good through pre-season and part of the reason I’ve taken the job is to give local guys… the opportunity,” he said.
“The most pleasing thing is we’ve got depth. The local guys I asked, not all stepped up, but some did and they’ll get their chance.”
Cheney has retained the core group that surged up the ladder late last season, losing only striker Max Etheridge, Rob Ruffell and key midfielder Marquin Smith.
Prolific Mornington marksman Geordie Scott will partner Jamie Prictor up front, while Smith will be replaced by Englishman Ash Cattermole in the centre of the park.
“He (Cattermole) is impressive on the ball, he controls it well and makes play happen. He and Steve Maselli in the middle are a good combo,” Cheney said.
Former Pegasus goal keeper Dave Schonberger returns from Eastern Lions, giving Cheney two first string glovemen along with Pierce Morrison.
Malesh Hova Peter adds strength and rigidity to the backline, while the introduction of John Kuol from Traralgon City adds pace to the flanks, an option Cheney hopes to utilise.
“(The) main focus will be stopping goals but also attacking. We’ve got great speed down the wings with the likes of Dougie (Milesevic), Johnny Kuol, Chrissy Wynne, those guys are really quick so it’s just a matter of setting the boys up structurally to play the style that I want,” he said.
“Teams get better the more they play together, we haven’t changed the squad much we’ve just brought better players in to add to the team.”
Pegasus suffered just one pre-season loss, to Altona East at the weekend, leaving Cheney hopeful of achieving top four finishes for both the seniors and reserves.
“I’m not just setting a goal for the seniors, I’m setting a goal for the reserves and with the depth we’ve got I think it’s achievable,” he said.
The reserves will be knocking hard on the door for senior berths, with a surplus of local talent on the books.
Jamie Green (Monash) will coach the side, with Chris Beasley as captain.
Traralgon City under 16 duo Dylan de Hommel and Michael Bruzzese have been impressive in a squad with stronger links to the senior group than years past.
“The Melbourne based players and the local based players are all working together for the same cause, where in the past it’s been the senior squad up there (in Melbourne), so what I’m doing is pretty much rebuilding the club,” Cheney said.
To that end Cheney has structured training so players need only to travel once a week, for both local and Melbourne based squad members, with regular training returning to Morwell from Pakenham at least once a week.
Cheney aims to make Ronald Reserve a fortress as Pegasus targets mid table by mid-season, with the top teams in sight.
“The main focus for the first half of the season is getting points at home, because Melbourne teams do not like travelling here,” he said.
Pegasus begins its campaign at Ronald Reserve on Saturday against Noble Park from 3pm.