With a 0-6 record and a spot at the foot of the State Championship Men’s ladder, Eltham’s season, one full of potential in the pre-season, was fading fast.
Then, a maiden 2016 win against Werribee (currently 4-10, ninth) built some belief, before two more tough losses against quality opposition in Ringwood (7-5, seventh) and Corio Bay (10-2, second) – within 24 hours of each other – saw the ‘Cats slip to 1-8 as the mid-point of the campaign approached.
Many teams would find it hard to recover from a month as torrid and fruitless as that, let alone even contemplate making a run to the playoffs.
Not these Wildcats.
The boys from Eltham have won four straight since to improve to 5-8 on the season and suddenly, miraculously, they occupy the eighth and final playoffs spot.
Two of those four wins have been thrashings of lowly clubs Hawthorn (2-10, tenth) and Bulleen (0-11, twelfth), but it is the other two wins that have signalled the arrival of the Wildcats as a threat, with results over Waverley (9-3, third) and Diamond Valley (8-5, sixth).
Star recruit Ben Waldren, who made the jump from Hawthorn in the off-season, has been a big part of the remarkable turnaround in fortunes, but he says it is the way his teammates have galvanised together through the early adversity that is the driving force.
“We just continued to trust each other and we worked really hard at training to find a nice balance on both ends of the floor.
“We go really deep and that’s been a big factor in the past month as well.”
It is perhaps that depth that will hold the Wildcats in good stead as the season rolls on, with plenty of contributors emerging each week.
Waldren leads the team in scoring with 18.7ppg, but has the likes of Jordan Canovan (12ppg), Adam Moore (11.8ppg) and Chris Cameron (11.3ppg) to lean on for support.
When Canovan went 0-for-7 from the floor against the Eagles last week, the likes of Jarrod Fryar (7.5ppg) and Simon Grant (9.2ppg) picked up the slack, netting 17 and 16 points respectively to steer their side to another victory.
The influence of Cameron in particular cannot be underestimated, with the former Waverley Falcon’s season debut coinciding with the beginning of his team’s current four-game win-streak.
Suddenly, the top sides are looking over their shoulder at an Eltham side making plenty of noise below them, and the ‘Cats are far from done.
A relatively good run home should see the Wildcats continue their charge up the ladder, with five of their remaining nine matches coming against the bottom four sides.
Not that Waldren and his cavalry are getting ahead of themselves in any sense.
“We are taking it one week at a time and just want to keep building each round.
“We have the belief that we can beat anyone.”
That mantra of belief is at the centre of any club’s success, and when mixed with the talent and depth that the Wildcats possess, it transforms a side like Eltham into a dangerous proposition for any opposition that they may encounter between now and late August.
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