Reigning GFNL Rookie of the Year Hunter Lewis is closing in on a return to full training after overcoming a slow pre-Christmas recovery from an injury that prematurely ended his 2023 season.
Lewis burst onto the scene with 25 goals in 11 games before suffering a broken leg that required surgery in the July 8 win over Bell Park.
“He’s confident young fella, but he needs his body going right to get things happening,” coach Ron Watt said.
“(We’re) optimistic about a full recovery, (and he’ll be) bigger and better.
“We’ll monitor him pretty carefully; by the time practice games come around, he’ll be right to play.”
Watt said Lewis, who was still eligible for under-18 action last year, has used the time off his leg to develop his young body.
“It’s certainly been an area he’s concentrated on … to do some leg weights, get his core strong, and get a little bit stronger up top,” Watt said.
“His main weapon is his football intellect, but it has been a good opportunity for him to deviate from that a little bit.”
Fellow young gun Oli Northam also missed the majority of the second half of the season after breaking his arm in the Round 10 clash with Colac.
With Lewis only playing one more game than Northam before suffering his broken leg, St Joseph’s lost five of its last seven games to drop from 9-2 to 11-7 and missed the finals for the first time in a decade.’
However, Northam is also tracking well and will be a crucial component for Joeys when not required by VFL club Werribee.
“He looks brutally strong at the moment,” Watt said.
“He’s put on a bit of size, and he’s got a lot of confidence from what he did in the first half of last year.
“I’m sure he’ll get a really good run at Werribee, and when he doesn’t get a run there, we’ll be very happy to have him back.”
Having already welcomed back James Gow (Koroit) and Luke Webb (Strathfieldsaye) and added 2022 GFNL Team of the Year member Jack Leonard from North Shore, Watt revealed the addition of Liam Betson from Goulburn Valley League club Mooroopna.
Betson is no stranger to the GFNL after spending four seasons with Grovedale pre-Covid.
“Liam is good mates with a few of the boys that play at Joeys, and they offered him the chance to come and play with us last year, which he did,” Watt said.
“It made it a little bit easier for him to say, ‘I want to stay in Geelong and play my craft here and play with a few mates that I have where I’m living’.”
“We’re pretty lucky he’s signed on with us. He’s not only a good footballer but a great young man.”
Among the departures from Drew Oval are the experienced Cal Mitchell (overseas), veteran big Josh Hovey (Modewarre), key forward Angus Mackay and Tasmanian Joe Chaplin.
Mackay and Chaplin studied at Marcus Oldham College last year and will spend this year on farms out of the region.
St Joseph’s will play its annual practice match against Werribee Districts on March 16 before taking on Hampden League club Warrnambool – which has added former North Melbourne star Ben Cunnington – on March 23.
Joeys will also have match simulation hitouts with Bannockburn and Modewarre.
They face St Albans at Concept Oval to open their season on April 13