Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead
If we throw back to the start of the season, I didn’t exactly go out on a limb predicting the top four sides from 2017 – St Kevin’s OB, Collegians, Uni Blues and De La Salle – would each reach the final four for the second year in a row.
Irrespective of opinion, the odds were against the same four sides appearing in finals in successive Premier seasons given it has happened just five times since the commencement of the double promotion and relegation system in 1923. That’s right, five times in 94 years and only once post-1987. Not since Old Haileybury, Old Scotch, Old Xaverians and Uni Blues last achieved the feat in 2005/06 has it happened in the top tier of the VAFA. A list of all five occasions is below:
- 1952/53 – Commonwealth Bank, Old Melburnians, Ormond & Uni Blues
- 1954/55 – Old Melburnians, Ormond, Uni Blacks & Uni Blues
- 1960/61 – Collegians, Old Melburnians, Uni Blacks & Uni Blues
- 1985/86 – Collegians, De La Salle, North Old Boys & Ormond
- 2005/06 – Old Haileybury, Old Scotch, Old Xaverians & Uni Blues
Now we are one-third of the way through the season, the only sure thing regarding this year’s top four is that SKOB and Collegians will occupy two of those spots as they sit 6-0 with percentages of 190% and 162%, respectively. Over the past seven years teams have required an average of less than 11 wins (10.8) to make finals, so backing SKOB and the Lions to claim at least five more from their last 12 is as close to a Black Caviar as you’re likely to get. They are one game above the Tonners and two above the T’s, while OMs sit solo in fifth with three wins from their opening six games. The make-up of the bottom five is just as interesting as Uni Blues and De La (2017 finalists) sitting sixth and seventh with just two wins, while Old Xaverians, SBMT and Old Scotch sit in the bottom three positions.
The weekend’s action proved SKOB are still the team to beat after they dismantled Old Brighton to the tune of 83 points at TH King Oval. The Tonners entered the match undefeated after a dream opening five rounds but their physicality and relentlessness on the ball carrier did little to affect the reigning premiers as SKOB piled on 14 goals to one in the opening three quarters. After 11 behinds from their first 12 scoring shots, the Tonners straightened up with 4.5 in the last but their total of 46 was almost 50 points less than their season average (93.4) heading into the game. Mitch Brown continued his elite form across the ground, while Anthony Lynch’s pre-season prediction of Billy Kanakis’ breakout year continued to prove true as the SKOB forward booted another four goals and took his season tally to 21 – equal-first with Matt Handley (OX).
Down at the Daley Oval, it was Collegians who claimed their sixth straight victory as they ran over the T’s by 19 points. The Lions’ defensive structures were a work of art as they gave the T’s forwards little room to move inside their attacking 50 in the second half, only to see the ball rebound with poise and grace down the other end via the slick movement of Taylor Hunt and Nick Dixon. Will Johnson’s foray up forward continued to elicit positive results as the star utility kicked four important goals in what would have to be one of the scariest forward lines in William Buck Premier with George Burbury, Will Tardif and Anthony Bruhn. The T’s showed why they are every bit a finals fancy as they drew level with the Lions for most of the match. Jake Steinhart’s use from half back was a highlight, while Anthony Scott joined him as arguably the two best players on the ground.
Despite having used the equal-most players of any team so far in 2018, OMs pinched their third win of the season and solidified fifth spot on the ladder with a 17-point victory over Old Xaverians. Josh Freezer’s form is as strong as any player at present as he led OMs from the defensive 50 alongside his young protégé Robbie Morrison. Tom Paule returned from a hand injury while they still players the ilk of Nick De Steiger, Lachie Borthwick, Oscar Hosking and Mitch Banner sidelined. Matt Handley’s hot form in front of goal continued as he booted five of the Xavs’ seven majors, taking his tally to 21 and equal-first with Billy Kanakis. Outside of Handley’s performance, the Xavs had 22 scoring shots to 19 but will rue inaccuracy as they had 13 behinds from their first 18 scoring shots when the game was on the line. At 1-5 and in eighth spot on the ladder, they face Collegians at Toorak Park this weekend where they had a 57-point win over the Lions in Round 18 last season.
De La Salle reignited their season by ending a three-game losing streak with a 91-point victory over St Bedes/Mentone Tigers. De La’s 137 points was more than double their season average (60.4) as nine individual goal kickers stepped forward to help share the load. Brodie McLaughlin as the main recipient in front of goal with five, while Tom Humphrey and Antony Forato expanded their already multi-skilled repertoire by kicking three each. Michael Griechen, Matt Colak, Luke Williams and Matt Fieldsend were several inclusions this week, but they suffered a devastating blow with Fieldsend, a Woodrow Medallist and Big V representative, going down with an ACL. The loss was the Tigers’ fifth in a row as they struggle to apply scoreboard pressure with an average of 65.8ppg and four scores of 68 points or less. Michael Barnes has been a shining light and named in the best four times, while Josh Cowan was their sole multiple goal kicker with two on the weekend.
Two late goals from Tim Harper helped Uni Blues to their second win of the season, defeating Old Scotch by 15 points at Camberwell Sports Ground. Leading by 22 points at three quarter time, the Blues were made to work as Andrew Jelbart, Ben Hays and Harry Larwill kicked successive goals for the Cardinals and brought the margin to three points 22m into the fourth. However, despite kicking just one goal in the previous three terms, Harper stepped up with two sealers within the space of 70 seconds. Harper has been one of the highlights of the Blues’ otherwise disappointing start to the season with 13 goals since coming across from Noble Park. Ryan Eade and Connor Lappin have also provided highlights and continued their standout form with BOG performances. The loss is the Cardinals’ sixth on the trot as they continue to battle for their first win. Lachlan Hill was their best player for the second time in three weeks while Nick Jamieson plays himself into the Big V side every week.