CLOSE BOND: The skilful Western Pride squad ahead of their recent NPL semi-final.
CLOSE BOND: The skilful Western Pride squad ahead of their recent NPL semi-final. Chris Simpson

State's best back for 2018 bid

IN a major boost for regional football, Western Pride has re-signed all but one of the players who won this year's NPL Queensland grand final.

Captain Jesse Rigby, player of the year Adam Endean and ex-A-League defender Cameron Crestani head the list of 12 senior players who elected to stay in the green and white hoops for the 2018 state league season.

Mitchell Bird and Joe Duckworth will again provide firepower after scoring 25 goals between them this season.

Young keeper Max Davison will look to consolidate his hold on the number one shirt.

Pride coach Graham Harvey moved quickly to secure the squad which won 11 games on the trot to see the club win its first major trophy.

Harvey was pleased that despite the historic achievement, the players believed they could continue their development at Pride.

"(Grand final success) does not mean that we pat ourselves on the back and think job done,” Harvey said.

"The objective is still in my eyes to get some players into the professional game like we did with Harrison Sawyer.

"I challenge Joey and Jesse in particular to kick on next season and get into the pro game.”

Grand final free-kick hero Dylan Wenzel-Halls is missing from the list of returning players as the striker will be exploring an opportunity at a higher level at the completion of Pride's trip to Japan.

Visa player Sam Fitzgerald is the only confirmed departure from the victorious squad after deciding to move back to the UK by the end of the year.

Harvey thanked Fitzgerald for his contribution to Pride over the last season and a half.

"Sam brought his experience from being a professional in the UK here to Australia,” Harvey said.

"He has a good range of passing and brought a much-needed calm voice to the midfield.”

Harvey said long-term injured pair Boni Thomas and Nielen Brown will be given every assistance in pre-season to recover and secure another year at Pride.

With futures secured, Pride's players will look to defend their title next year in a much-changed NPL.

An additional three teams are scheduled to join the competition in 2018, while the challenge of playing teams struggling against relegation will add extra drama as the season progresses.

Harvey said retaining his squad had given him a headstart in preparation for next year.

"We do not want to be wasting time in pre-season trialling players as it is unprofessional and shows a lack of organisation and scouting,” Harvey said.

"A pre-season spent with the whole squad working tactically will be invaluable.”

Top line-up

The Western Pride players returning for the 2018 state league season: Jesse Rigby, Mitchell Bird, Cameron Crestani, Max Davison, Joe Duckworth, Adam Endean, Gabriel Hawash, Jordan Lambi, Will McFarlane, Hayden McHenery, Jacob Minett, Delors Tuyishime. Departing: Sam Fitzgerald.

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