by Julia Baker
IT MAY be almost winter, but the football season is just warming up for the Chinchilla Suns players who are set to play their first home game on the back of a win against the Lockyer Valley Demons.
In what may be a sign of more to come, the Suns senior team beat Lockyer Valley 83-36 at the weekend and will play the Highfields Lions this Saturday at Chinchilla Recreation Grounds.
The club has high hopes for the season and changes to the Darling Downs AFL competition mean the A-grade team is in with a good chance of winning the premiership this year.
Clubs playing in the Darling Downs AFL have been separated into two divisions to make competition fairer by levelling team skill and ability.
The Suns are one of five teams playing in division two against Dalby, Highfields, Lockyer Valley and Warwick.
"Last year there was an 11 team competition; there were five really strong teams and five or six getting flogged every week, so this year the league has decided to go back to a division one and division two competition and the winner of division two will move up to division one next season,” Suns club president Troy Wischnat said.
It's a change A-grade coach Jay Padget said gives the Suns a "good platform to build on with competitive footy from week-to-week” after they finished second last on the ladder in 2016.
"This year is a big step up and a good chance to build the boys up to go up against those Toowoomba sides,” he said.
Padget said this season, years of hard work would finally pay off, with the club set to reap the benefits of slowly and steadily growing a solid team.
"We set some pretty high goals through the pre-season and on the weekend everyone performed well and worked for each other,” he said.
"We will definitely shake a few cages, it's taken us about five years to build up a good solid team and now this year it should pay off.
"It's been building that culture and the understanding of the game itself in the community, and then getting that experience on the ground.”
Transient workers in the region as well as a lack of AFL culture meant, in past seasons, the Suns have struggled to build a consistent player group. But they now have around 30 permanent players.
"We're in rugby league heart land so we've had to build a club from scratch and grow the game here...to get people interested in another sport outside of those football staples in town,” he said.
"We had to knock down misconceptions about the game and get people to understand it and encourage them to get involved.”
Wischnat said the team was in good form with young players having finally found their feet on the field.
"We've had a lot of younger players come through in the last few years and they have really shown on the weekend that their football maturity had come along in leaps and bounds and that should mean we're a force to be reckoned with over the next few years,” he said.
"We have a couple from Miles, South Burnett, a few based in Toowoomba now for uni that come down, they come once a week for training.”
Wischnat said the Dalby Swans would be the team to beat and that the Suns were fired up to contest the Travis Mitchell Cup later in the season.
"Dalby is one of our biggest rivalries, we will play them for the Travis Mitchell Cup game later in the year and it's always a good gig on a Friday night... we had about 250 people there and we'd love to see that at every game,” he said.
"We're in a really good spot this year, our aspirations are to win it, worst case scenario we will be there in the finals.
"Everyone is pretty excited after the win on the weekend, the boys will only get better and better as the season goes on.”