Story

 Kylie Else.
Northern Blues captain Tom Wilson enjoyed another strong season. Picture: Kylie Else.

Tim Michell, Preston Leader

September 5, 2017 7:30am

NORTHERN Blues will take a more ruthless approach to their list planning for next season as they plot a return to VFL finals.

The Blues have not achieved a top-eight finish since 2011, missing out on a finals berth this year on percentage after a heavy loss to Box Hill Hawks last weekend.

Coach Josh Fraser said the club had to be “really specific” about the players it recruited if it was to play finals for the first time in seven years next season.

“It’s interesting because I think that we had a really healthy retention rate last year and we expect to be able to lock some players away again,” Fraser said.

“There’s also some guys that have had a fair amount of time in the system that haven’t necessarily been able to take that next step.

“We will retain some players, I am really confident in saying that.

“And we will also make some calls on some guys that we may or may not feel are going to help us going forward.”

Defender Cam O’Shea will enter the Laurie Hill Trophy count as the favourite to claim Northern Blues’ best and fairest, with captain Tom Wilson and former Gold Coast on-baller Luke Russell his likely challengers.

Fraser has remained adamant throughout 2017 former Port Adelaide backman O’Shea deserves a second chance at the elite level.

“I have heard people talk about players that would be a chance to get on to an AFL list and I am sometimes amazed Cam’s name is not in that conversation in terms of the top two or three,” he said.

Fraser said he was “really invested” in the club’s success and likely to learn in coming weeks if he would continue in the coaching post next year.

He said players who relished challenges posed by opposition sides would be at the top of the Blues’ recruiting wishlist.

“We have got to be really specific in the players we retain and the players we bring in and make sure we give ourselves the best list possible to compete at this time of year,” he said.

The development of younger players such as Mason Blakey, Jaylon Thorpe, Marcus Stavrou, Sam Glover and Kane Keppel also gave the club reason for optimism.

“We won’t be taking any backwards steps and we will give ourselves every chance to play finals football next year,” Fraser said.

The second-year coach said he was confident the club had improved, but added: “We are not quite good enough yet to take that next step”.

“That will be the agenda going into summer, to be really specific with the type of players we want to bring in and coach the group rally hard,” he said.