If any former South Australian National Football League (SANFL) player was to wander into a Queanbeyan Tigers first-grade training session without notice, it would give the boys from Tiger Land something to roar about.

Can Queanbeyan repeat last season’s spoils? // Photo by Keiran Deck

If that player was Central District star Cameron Milne, a 198-centimetre ruckman with exceptional tapping skills and fitness, the roar would just about make the Legends Stand shake.

That’s what happened on one balmy December evening last year.

Football Operations General Manager, Michael Goiser, who gave the walk-in recruit a tour of the Allinsure Park facilities, said that Milne will bring a lot of assistance to the younger players.

“With that level of experience he’s going to be a great leader to add to a very young group,” Goiser said. “He’ll also be able to help develop a lot of players, especially a lot of our other young, upcoming talls or ruckmen.”

Whispers of a premiership three-peat are absent in Queanbeyan and a continuation of just that – player development – the primary focus. The black and yellow army claimed the premiership in 2014, however its top side played in the Northern Eastern Australian Football League (NEAFL), so in Tiger Town a three-peat lingers as a myth.

After Queanbeyan’s exit from the NEAFL at the completion of 2014, a mass exodus of 42 players occurred for various reasons. It left the Tigers with a very young and inexperienced first-grade squad for the following year, however, it was a hurdle they certainly cleared.

Guided by strong leadership and buoyed by a wealth of young guns who would continually rise to the occasion, they had a stellar year. The young Tigers capped it off in September as they roared on grand final day to trounce the previously undefeated Belconnen Magpies by four goals.

Tigers fans roar on Grand Final day // Photo by Keiran Deck

The continued development in 2016 of players like forward Matthew Grocott is a key vision. Grocott bagged 38 goals last year, including a six-pointer in the decider, which made him the third-highest goal scorer in the first-grade competition and Queanbeyan’s highest.

Player-coach Kade Klemke said that 19-year-old Alex Page is also expected to take another big step forward this year.

“He kicked three (goals) in our grand final and I’ve had to play on him at times during pre-season and I can tell you he’s a tough player to play on,” Klemke said. The former Essendon draftee also expects 25-year-old Dean Ross to impress in 2016. “I think Dean has been probably one of the guys that’s had one of the biggest pre-seasons,” he said. “He’s probably the fittest I’ve seen him and he’s been in the gym as well, so I hope to see him finding a lot more of the footy this year.”

Along with Milne, former Sydney Swans reserve-grade premiership-winning player Ryan Quade headlines a number of notable recruits. The 200-first-grade-gamer and son of club legend Brian Quade has returned to the den to finish off his career.

2012 NEAFL premiership-winning player and former co-coach Josh Bryce has also returned to Tiger Land. The former co-coach had a year away in 2015 playing footy for the Jerilderie Demons in the Riverina with six of his relatives.

Tyler Collins, Jeremy Edwards and Jason Taylor, who all played for Eastlake in the NEAFL last year, have swapped black and red for black and yellow and former player James Manie has dusted off the boots.

Klemke said that after two comfortable pre-season wins this year he can say the young squad is shaping up well.

“The fitness level we’re at I’m pretty happy with and the skills over the last two weeks have been really good,” he said. “It will be good to have a good test against ‘Tuggers’ (this weekend) because the last two games haven’t been a great test for our younger guys.”

Klemke’s men will start the year with a run of two byes, a match with last year’s runner-up wooden-spooners Gungahlin and another bye. Consecutive clashes with Ainslie and Belconnen in rounds five and six will then start to test the might of the young, developing side.

Expect the boys from Queanbeyan to venture deep into the finals again this year and have another tilt at the title. However, in the words of Goiser, after winning the premiership it is a squad “with a target on its back”.

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Zachary Gates

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