Few club’s in the NPLW sport the credentials of the Gap Gators. Since entering the top flight in 1997 they have only missed the finals twice and in the last 11 years have secured seven victories from nine Grand Final appearances.
So how has the Gap managed to maintain it’s place at the top of the table for such an extended period? According to head coach Rob Askew the reason is multi-faceted.
“We have always had a strong focus on youth development which has meant that there has been a continuous stream of quality players coming through the system,” says Askew. “We have also developed a strong reputation for developing players based on good coaching and an excellent training environment which has attracted ambitious players as well.
“There has been a clear Gap philosophy that has been applied to the way we teach football and the expectations we have of how our players should think and behave which has been conducive to success. This has been applied by successive coaches who all came through the system here at The Gap.”
While attracting players from outside the club is great, it appears youth development has really paid dividends. Two-thirds of the Gap’s current team have come through the development squads at some stage of their career.
This includes two fresh faces from the under 17s in Ali Pittis and Laine Sunderland, plus a relatively unknown quantity in Charlotte Bohl who missed almost all of the 2017 NPLW season to injury. Askew believes they will make the transition smoothly but admits it will not be easy.
“For the younger ones they will need to have a strong belief that they belong and not be satisfied with the odd game in the 17s,” says Askew. “They will have to compete at training and this will be a big step for them as the intensity and expectations are much higher. They are very talented and have the ability; it is just a case of whether they can be tough enough mentally to force their way in.”
They may have to find their feet quickly though as there are a number of current juniors looking to break into the NPLW is the next year or two. The current under 17s are the first group to come through having played in the NPL since under 13s and are coming off an undefeated under 15s campaign.
“These are critical years for them and they have to lift several notches to get to the level we are after,” says Askew. “Each have things they particularly need to work on whether it be physical conditioning, decision making or mentality. The one thing they all need to do is to lift their training standards.”
While nothing is guaranteed, the Gap appears to be well placed to remain queens of the NPLW swamp.