Northern Jets coach Josh Avis believes across-the-board improvement from all of their players is the only answer to coping with the retirement of Mitch Haddrill.
The post-Haddrill era kicked off for the Jets last Friday night with a pre-season hit out against Leeton-Whitton.
Avis was "pleasantly surprised" with their first appearance which culiminated in a 14-point loss against the Riverina League club.
"I was a bit nervous because COVID's going through the footy club and we had a lot of young blokes playing but in the end it was not a bad showing, they all stepped up," Avis said.
That's what they're going to have to do all year, the coach believes, in the absence of their four-time club best-and-fairest.
"Our biggest thing is going to be the mindset I think. We've got to farewell him and know we've got to rebuild our midfield but I think we're well placed to do that," Avis said.
"Obviously there's no replacing Mitch but if we can all step up, it can fall into place...
"If we all lift our game by 10 per cent, across the footy field that's nearly 200 per cent so that's more than one player."
That started on Friday night at Leeton where Avis and assistant coach Mal Douglas saw players seize their chance and take on responsibility.
Without Haddrill, as well as Sam and Jack Fisher for the game, the Jets trialled a new midfield where Hamish Gaynor was strong, and experienced backman Brad McKinnon found a new role as a bigger body in their on-ball brigade.
Tom Roscarel (who had a wrist injury last year) caught the eye as well as his brother Josh caught the while youngster Nathan Tiyce was their only defender with senior experience and marshalled their back six.
Returned junior Jack Harper was good on a half-forward flank despite being limited by a cork.
"That kept him relatively quiet for a little while but every time he did something with the footy it was pretty good to watch," Avis said.
"With the dynamic of our forward line, that's where we thought he's best suited and he kicked a couple of goals. He was very impressive to watch."
Avis said the Friday night game in Leeton was a welcome return to football after last year's sudden finish in August.
They're at home to North Wagga first up in round one and expect a fired up Saints, who they beat twice last year.
The Jets' pre-season has been impacted by the long harvest and, after a planned trial against Culcairn fell over, Avis said they may be organising a game against Northern Riverina League club Ungarie for another hit out.
Avis said he's hoping Haddrill remains involved around the club and can have an influence on their younger players.
The experienced coach, who started his career with a premiership in Newcastle and has played NEAFL with Sydney Swans reserves, was at times in awe of Haddrill's performances.
"He's always doing his thing, and doing it to a really high standard. And then he can still take it to another level when the team needs it or when the chips aren't falling our way," Avis said, saying Haddrill had an unmatched ability to dominate a game.
"Not to that extent (I haven't seen anyone else do it).
"A lot of guys can pop up and have a really good five or six minute patch, but no one that I've come across can do that but still say well and truly relevant for the rest of the game.
"We will definitely miss that
"He's a humble bloke, there's no arrogance or dirt, just a down to earth bloke who seemed to love playing his footy, but he's got other priorities now and I wish him all the best.
"Hopefully we'll get him down to the club a little bit at some stage and talk to our young blokes and give them a run through. Hopefully he stays involved because it would be a shame to lose a bloke like that out of the footy community."
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