Big signings including Paul Ahern and Billy Murphy will be key for the Bullants in season 2021. Photo: Northern Bullants FC

While it was crucial for the Bullants to establish the club off field quickly, creating a strong group on field was never a lesser priority.

Read the first part of our two-part series on the Northern Bullants here.

The signing of the club’s senior coach marked the start of great things happening on field at Preston City Oval for the Northern Bullants.

Having conquered the huge challenge of re-establishing itself as a standalone team, the next course of business was establishing a footy department.

When it came down to it, there was no one else to appoint as coach but the man who held the reins of the Northern Blues for the past five years.

Speaking to The Inner Sanctum, former champion Pie and Sun turned coach Josh Fraser was, like most, rocked by the immediate effects of the pandemic.

“The thing that surprised me the most was how quickly the decision [to end the alignment] came about,” he said.

“We were just entering into the COVID world and understood that there was going to be all sorts of changes… given that we didn’t really know if there was going to be a VFL season, didn’t really know how the landscape was going to evolve, that was a shock.

“Shock and disappointment were the initial feelings, but I understood that there was going to have to be changes right throughout the league on some level.”

Fraser joined Carlton at the end of the 2015 season, taking over the role of coach of the Northern Blues, the name the Bullants went under during their realignment with Carlton.

Though the Bullants name wasn’t present, the Preston Football Club was still well and truly alive.

“Through my role at Carlton, which was primarily a development role but part of that role was coaching the Northern Blues, whenever I throw myself into something like that I throw myself right into it,” Fraser said.

“I gained a really strong appreciation for the Bullants and the history of Preston and tried to use that in a lot of ways to help the group come together within an alignment.

“When it was finished, it really didn’t sit that well with me that a decision could be made as quickly as it was. It basically signalled the end of a football club of over 100 years.

“I thought the cause was worthy enough to fight for.

“I saw how it impacted some people who have been around the club a lot longer than what I had. I thought if I could play a role in helping them bring the club back, then I was willing to do so.”

In Fraser’s time coaching, he has had the luxury of having AFL club listed players at his disposal, both at the Gold Coast Suns NEAFL team and the Northern Blues.

For the first time, he’ll be tackling a season with a list entirely his own.

“It’s an enormous challenge, in some ways bigger than I thought it would be,” he said.

“Now that I’m living it, it’s a different side of the fence when you are standalone. I’ve got a different appreciation for the amount of work that has to go into that.

“Things like we don’t have a consistent training base at the moment, we’re not as resourced or as flush with facilities and equipment like the AFL and the alignment clubs are.

“We’ve got to embrace and adapt to change. It tests our players resilience.

“We’re building a culture where there’ll be no entitlement. We’re going to have to work for everything we get, but I like that because I think the footy club, in the past, has been built off that type of mentality.

“There’s definitely more autonomy, no doubt about that.

“Within an alignment, whilst you’re coaching your own side and that is the best experience you can have as a coach, you’re still dictated to by a higher power.

“I know at Carlton our focus was always on the development of the Carlton listed players, and that’s the way it should be, but you are restricted with the way you want to play at times.

“I understand that as well, that’s the landscape of an alignment.

“We’re probably taking a similar path, in the sense that we’re going to be heavily focused on developing our players but we’ve also got some freedom and flexibility to do a few things a little bit differently as well.

“It’ll be development, building a game style, constantly finding ways to get better and challenging ourselves from week to week to go out and perform and win games.

“We’re not as established yet, we don’t have the consistency other clubs do within their programs so our challenge very much lies in front of us in terms of what we can build over the next six months.”

Two big names highlight the additions to the Bullants new look playing group.

Former Roo Paul Ahern and Bulldog Kieran Collins jumped on board in late January, much to the coach’s delight.

Despite holding a wealth of senior level experience in comparison to their predominantly VFL level teammates, Fraser says he’ll be holding everyone to the same standard.

“Expectations on [former AFL players] are the same as every other player,” he said.

“We recruited players who we believe in, both in their character and what they can bring to us in a footy capacity.

“Paul and Kieran are no different, both of them have set a really strong standard on the park and we’d like to think we could develop them into better players.

“In Paul’s cases, our discussions with him were minimal.

“We spoke to him about our footy club, where we’re heading and where we’ve been, and he was really keen to jump on board to be a part of it. It’s a good endorsement for what we’ve been able to build so far.”

Other signings so far include former Box Hill and Aspley small forward Billy Murphy, NEAFL Swan Jackson Barling, the VFL experienced group of Matt King, Liam Mackie, Tynan Smith and Dylan Stone. and former Northern Blues Jean-Luc Velissaris and Tom Wilson.

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