JEPARIT-RAINBOW have continued a remarkable finals streak, having made it to September every year since their transferral from the Mallee League in 2015.
However, despite finishing a disrupted 2021 season in fifth place, with nine wins and three losses, it won't be a year filled with fond memories for the Storm.
For coach Daniel Batson, the frustrations of lockdowns and injuries marred an otherwise impressive campaign.
"It's been a frustrating season with so many stops and starts, obviously out of the league's control. It just made it hard to build momentum and keep that form up, when we'd play one game and then have another three weeks off," he said.
Despite the difficulties of lockdowns and gaps between games, the Storm surged into the top five early in the season and managed to put together a respectable six game winning streak through the latter half of the year.
A stirring come from behind win over reigning premiers Harrow-Balmoral and a thumping victory over second-placed Rupanyup in a wet and wild round 11 clash showed the Storm had what it takes to compete with the best.
However an early loss to Kalkee proved costly in a shortened season, and a 40-point defeat at the hands of the Bombers before the resurgent Southern Roos brought them back down to earth in the final round proved there's still work to be done for Jeparit-Rainbow.
"We'd started to build some really good form into the back half of the season, but then we had a bit of a break and got a touch up from Harrow with a few players out. It was a bit of a disappointing way to leave it."
Batson said that the shortened season made it harder for teams to judge who the sides to beat were.
"It just made it a bit harder to even the teams out, to see where all the top sides would finish if we'd played out a full season," he said.
For Batson, in his second season as senior coach, the pieces have started to come together.
"We're starting to implement our game plan a lot better. We picked up a few quality recruits who've rounded out the side... (recruits) Jay Kirwood and Scott Driscoll were very impressive and added a lot to the side that we probably didn't have," he said.
"Everyone played really well, building on from a very good season (in 2019)."
However depth proved to be a thorn in the Storm's side, as injuries began to mount in the second half of the season.
"We had three season ending injuries in the last three games. It just makes it very hard when we get to the final weeks of the season and we have players out with ACLs and a broken foot," Batson said.
"It's happened every season I've been at Jeparit-Rainbow, we'll get to finals with six or seven blokes out injured. A bit of luck would be nice, but you can't control that."
Nevertheless, recruiting players to add depth to the side will be a key focus of the off season Batson said.
Ultimately for Batson, season 2021 was about seeing the game plan come together and notching wins against quality opposition, both of which will hold the Storm in good stead as they look to return bigger and better in 2022.
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