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Reigning premiers Peel keep focus on young, local talentWednesday, March 15, 2017 - 12:33 PM - by Chris Pike

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PEEL Thunder is coming off the high of its breakthrough WAFL premiership and coach Cam Shepherd will continue to take pride in the opportunities he will provide the region's young players no matter how the Fremantle alignment is going.

The Thunder qualified for the finals for the first time in the club's history in 2015 before going on to lose to West Perth and East Perth to be bundled out.

They backed that up with another finals berth in 2016 and this time Peel proved unstoppable in September going on to score comprehensive victories over East Perth, West Perth, South Fremantle and Subiaco on the way to the maiden premiership.

Much was made of the AFL-listed players from Fremantle in that grand final team and coming into 2017, Tendai Mzungu, Matt de Boer, Shane Yarran, Alex Silvagni, Josh Deluca and Clancee Pearce have all moved on.

There will be a fresh batch of players from Fremantle available to Peel throughout the season, but Shepherd and the club's focus remains on the local talent.

They played a big part in the Thunder making the finals last year and will continue to receive their opportunities again in 2017 whether it's the returning Leroy Jetta, captain Gerald Ugle or veteran Rory O'Brien, or any of the 26 young players who received an opportunity in 2016.

Shepherd is happy with his team's preparation and is looking forward to Saturday night's Round 1 clash with East Perth at Leederville Oval after enjoying last year's premiership.

"We've had plenty of time to celebrate and we did enjoy that for a bit of time after the game, but we've been back in harness since November and we're looking forward to this year," Shepherd told TAB Radio.

"They are always long pre-seasons but it's good to have the games back now. And having it a week before the AFL is a good thing to give the WAFL a bit of a head start. There's some good product on the market and people should get out and have a look at the WAFL this year."

Shepherd understands why there is the focus from the outside on the Fremantle players who line up at Peel, but really who is and isn’t available from the Dockers is out of his control so he will continue to focus on the Thunder's local players.

"Every year coaching one of the aligned sides is always different because of the personnel changes and then we're a little bit reliant on the injuries that not only we get but that Fremantle have," he said.

"There's always new blood that comes in and we're excited by that, but we're also excited with the development of our local talent. We think our local talent is improving and getting older each year, and becoming really competitive. We want to win enough games to again give ourselves a chance and that's our aim."

Looking back on last year, on top of the premiership what Shepherd was most encouraged by was the signs that emerging players Blair Bell, Brayden Lawler, Andrew Haydon, Calvin Thorne, Ben Hancock, Alex Bray, Josh McMahon, Brad McGowan, Corey Morris and Brett Milward all showed.

They will continue to get opportunities in 2017 along with any other local players coming through who impress sufficiently.

"We played more youngsters than any other club last year so we have great faith in the product down in the Mandurah area so we look forward to really having a good year throughout the three grades," Shepherd said.

"That's really exciting and we have young fellas like Brad McGowan, Calvin Thorne, Corey Morris and Ben Hancock who are just starting their careers and are going to be fine players for the club. Because we were successful last year we weren't allowed to recruit coming into this season when in the past we've been able to recruit Leroy, Gerald Ugle and Josh Bootsma.

"So what we've really gone out to do is further develop our local areas and that involved getting the best coaches we can to fast track the players. We played 26 of our own players last year and people remember that we had all those wonderful Fremantle players, but we had 26 young players play last year to get us into the finals from our own zone, and 20 of them were aged under 20.

"We are continuing to develop those players and we believe there's fine futures with them. We've brought Brad Dodd on as coach of our reserves and we think he will certainly fast track the next crop through."

Another player that Shepherd is excited to have at his disposal in 2017 is Leroy Jetta.

He was forced to sit out all of 2016 after being a key component in Peel's first ever finals appearance in 2015, and now he is primed and ready for another big season on return in 2017 with Shepherd's full support.

"He had the year off and I think that was really emotionally draining for him and his family, so it has been great to have him back on the track. He is a really likeable fellow who we have great faith in. He will have a great season for us this year," Shepherd said.

"All you can do is care for them in that situation and show great empathy because Leroy did nothing wrong. You just have to make sure that we are there for him at any stage and I think that builds a relationship of trust. We care for Leroy and he knows that, and where his footy takes him is probably a little bit irrelevant because he's just a good young man."