By Tom Feldgen
Well here we are; a six-month off-season has been and gone, a pre-season full of gut-busting sprints, weight sessions, tactical planning, reflection and potentially a bit of gallivanting throughout the festive season is now behind us.
Season 2016 brings with it much excitement and anticipation. As is always the way in the VAFA, the element of the unknown is present with the two up, two down promotion/relegation system. The inclusion of four exciting teams to Division 1 this season means anything is possible. Coming down from Premier C we have PEGS and Therry Penola, whilst Ivanhoe will join Division 2 premiers Old Paradians this season.
As is the case for this time of year there are many questions to be answered. Who will be the surprise packet of 2016? Can the clubs perched in Division 1 take the next step? Who will get off to a flying start? Thankfully, those questions and more are about to be answered as pre-season is finally done and dusted and the real stuff begins. Let’s get into it!
Old Geelong was 14 points shy of a grand final berth in 2015 and will no doubt be looking for redemption this year. In a move to increase their professionalism the boys from Como Park have enlisted VAFA legend Nick Bourke as Director of Football. Bourke will be looking to mentor the coaching panel and enhance player development. It’s certainly looking as though no stone will be left unturned at Old Geelong this season.
St Mary’s Salesian rounded out the top four last season, but failed to make inroads during the finals series. The Saints look to be the side who were busiest on the recruiting front throughout the off-season. They added some top end talent in former VFL and EFL premiership player, Mitch Woods, Northern Territory-based key forward, Darren Wauchope, along with the talented Carson Strobel who is well known throughout the VAFA ranks. The Saints look set to be right up there come the business end.
Whitefriars finished on eight wins last season to see them placed fifth on the ladder. For the Friars to take the next step this season they will need a strong contribution from the young talent on their list. If the next generation of Under 19 players can step up, coach Dick Baker will have a side that will compete week in week out. On a sad note, all the best to young gun Toby McGurgan who has unfortunately suffered a second torn ACL in as many years, we wish you a swift and painless recovery.
Prahran Assumption will look to build on an encouraging, yet slightly underwhelming, 2015 where they had a positive percentage despite a poor win/loss record, highlighting their competitiveness. Under recently appointed captain James Musster, the Two Blues will provide a tough contest for any opponent this year.
After finishing in a disappointing seventh position last season, Old Mentonians are building momentum for a stronger assault for their 2016 campaign. The Panthers are coming off a strong summer where they have been able to add some handy acquisitions in former Mentone Grammar stars, Will Lancaster, Angus Hill and Taylor Ward, as well as ex-TAC Cup players, Cam Sharp and Aaron Hodges. The return of Darcy Brown from the Sandy Zebras will also help the Panthers cause.
Avoiding relegation last year by two wins was the boys from Brunswick NOBSPC. With a history of success in Division 1, NOBSPC will have their sights set on a much-improved performance in 2016. The acquisition of former Hampton Rover, Kyle Docherty, who takes on the role of playing assistant, will only aid them in their quest for finals footy.
After taking home the wooden spoon in Premier C, PEGS have a point to prove. With a strong nucleus of senior players including Baddeley and Skurrie, PEGS will be hoping the younger brigade can be the key to launching them back into the premier divisions. Livori and McCann will bolster their stocks as they make their return to the runway.
Therry Penola impressed at times during their short stay in Premier C; however, an inconsistent season led to their drop back to Division 1. The Lions will be keen to make amends this year and should be thereabouts come finals time. Star players, Jarrod Egglestone and Jarrod Bannister, are once again be the keys. Young guns, Darcy Ryan and Brock Egglestone, who both missed large portions of 2015, will complement them nicely.
One of the biggest stories of the off-season in the entire VAFA this year was the Old Paradian’s recruitment of former AFL and Uni Blacks star, Adam Pattison. Pattison, a former student at Parade College, has gone back to where it all began in a bid to assist his club move up the grades. The imposing figure will be seen playing through the forward line and in the ruck and will no doubt be a key pillar for the Raiders as they look to back up their Division 2 premiership. Of course the Raiders can’t fall into the trap of relying too much on the big man, so they will need contributors right across the board.
Division 2 bridesmaid, Ivanhoe will be out to build on a strong pre-season, which included an emphatic victory over NOBSPC in a practice match. However, as we all know too well, premierships are not won in March. The Hoes are going to need to take this early season form into the season proper if they are to match it with the best upon their return to Division 1.
Round 1 is jam-packed with exciting contests that will have tipsters left scratching their heads (myself included). Therry Penola up against Old Geelong out at Pascoe Vale is the blockbuster of the round. The Lions, who are primed for a big season after the pain of relegation in 2015, will come out firing, whilst Old Geelong are one of the hot tips for a tilt at the flag. I’m tipping the Lions in a fierce contest that should go down to the wire. Find my tips for the rest of the round below.
I’m anticipating an enthralling race to the finals in Division 1 this year with the top four spots to be left undecided well into the season.
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