Looking back on every William Buck Premier side in 2016

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By Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead

With the reality of elimination at the forefront of all three of their finals and a combination of three in-form opposition and recent history to defy, Old Xaverians achieved what many thought unachievable and claimed the William Buck Premier flag with a thrilling seven-point victory against Old Trinity at Ikon Park.

Finishing third at the end of the home and away fixture, the 2016 Xavs outfit became just the second side since 2005 (also Xavs) to win the Premier section flag from outside the top two. Given the form of the T’s, the defensive nous of University Blues and the star-studded line-up of University Blacks, it was a monumental effort for a side who found themselves lingering in seventh position on the ladder at the half way stage of the season.

Leading into the match, Xavs were given little chance of victory from VAFA experts and generic supporters, with the majority of pundits backing the fast-paced and in-form T’s on the wide expanses of Ikon.

However, a combination of Xavs’ hard-bodied midfield, finals experience and Mother Nature (consistent showers and a slippery deck) meant skipper, John Shaw, and co-coaches, Ted Woodruff and Pat Hawkins, held aloft the L.A. Adamson cup.

Led by Jock Nelson medallist, Caydn Beetham, and Nick Wynne, Xavs held strong in the clutches of the fourth term as they intercepted and repelled a number of the T’s rushed inside 50 thrusts.

The T’s were unable to capitalise on their chances in front of goal, but Callum Pohl, Fergus Stewart and Luke Pacconi were sensational in defence. They held their opponents for the majority of the match until leading goal kickers, Matt Handley and Brendan Goss, kicked two sealers in the last quarter.

The T’s held a four-point lead at the first break before Xavs made a point of hitting the contest first and controlling possession in a three-goal to one second term. For all of their dominance in that time, Xavs didn’t have the ascendancy on the scoreboard, leaving it open for the T’s and their well-known short bursts of scoring.

The T’s stuck with Xavs throughout the third and reclaimed the lead via Ed Weatherson’s second major early in the fourth. However, Goss and Handley quickly eliminated the deficit with two quick goals and Xavs never looked back as they blew the margin out to 15 points.

Louis Denton was hard at the contest all game, winning crucial contested ball in the dying stages of the match and feeding it out to his runners. After just two games in the seniors throughout the season, Lachlan Keith kicked two important majors for Xavs as he proved to be a real x-factor.

Brendan Iezzi led the T’s valiantly as he battled the physical presence of the Xavs and continued to send the ball forward of centre. Luther Juric, Jack Hunt and Gabe Hamilton were each named in the T’s best for their performances across four quarters.

It was a disappointing end to the T’s season as they failed to claim their first-ever William Buck Premier flag for the second consecutive year. They were the best team during the home and away season and sat atop the ladder for 10 of the 18 rounds. The return of captain, Brendan Iezzi, from a season-ending knee injury he suffered in 2015 was a highlight of the T’s season, alongside the elite improvement of Jack Osborn, Jack Hunt and Luther Juric. While nothing can soothe the hurt of a lost grand final, the T’s had the youngest average age of the top seven sides this year at a tick over 23, leaving them in a strong position to obtain that elusive first flag in the coming years.

University Blues flew under the radar for the majority of the season as they battled a heavy injury toll and low scoring output. While they averaged the third lowest points for (65 per game) out of all 10 sides, the Quinton Gleeson-led Blues made their name as defensive beasts, averaging just 57.3 points against. Big V representatives, Hugh Vickers-Willis and Jeremy Mugavin, led the charge for the Blues, while Will Cuningham provided elite run from defence. Star recruit and goal kicking maestro, Tim Geappen, suffered injuries throughout the season for the first time in his decorated career, giving hope to another genuine tilt at the flag next year with a healthy list at their disposal.

After struggling to back up the success of their 2014 premiership last year and finishing a game and a half outside the four, University Blacks returned to the powerhouse of season’s past with Cam Roberts reclaiming the senior coaching positon. After losing three of their first four games, the Blacks strung five consecutive victories together between rounds 5 and 9 and staked their claim as the team to beat. As it turned out, it was not to be as the Blacks gave up a four-goal lead midway through the third quarter of their elimination final against Xavs and went down by 15 points at Sportscover Arena. Bede Mahon was the standout through the Blacks’ midfield and earnt captaincy of the William Buck Premier Team of the Year, while Lochy Dornauf (43 goals), Adam Pitt, Josh Steadman and Hugh Curnow starred.

De La Salle will rue missed opportunity in 2016 after they fell away in the second half of the season and finished fifth. Sitting on top of the ladder with eight wins from their first 10 games, De La hit a severe form slump and lost their next five in a row. A 70-point win over St Kevin’s in Round 16 gave hope for an unlikely finals appearance, but a four-point loss to Old Melburnians in the penultimate round ended their 2016 tilt. Jake Williams returned from Collingwood’s VFL list and secured his second Woodrow Medal with six three-vote performances placing him five ahead of Thomas Paule.

Old Melburnians were the surprise packet of 2016 after they returned to William Buck Premier following their Premier B Grand Final loss to St Kevin’s last year. Former Richmond and Port Adelaide midfielder, Matt Thomas, was the star recruit off the off-season and his experience alongside Paule and Al Armstrong helped OMs to eight wins for the year. Big V representative, Nick De Steiger, made serious gains in his development as an elite Premier ruckman, while Nathan Brown had his side playing a brand of football which will keep them in the VAFA’s top tier for a number of years.

Collegians welcomed Shane Joyce as first-year coach and he implemented a no-nonsense approach to defence, with the Lions averaging 62.8 points against. They could muster just 64 points for as they struggled to find the scoreboard, but meddled around the middle of the ladder for the majority of the year. A Round 18 twilight win against OMs gave outgoing President, Wayne Dyer, and retiring stalwart, Andrew Scott, a fitting farewell after years of service to the Lions and our Association.

An eighth-place finish would not have been what St Kevin’s envisaged ahead of their return to William Buck Premier, but they will get another opportunity in 2017 after staving off relegation late in the year. They proved they had the firepower to compete at the top level with wins against Old Trinity and University Blacks (twice), but a loss to Old Carey at St Kevin’s College on Foundation Day showcased the difference between their best and worse. They lost senior coach, Jon Edgar, after their Round 12 loss to the Panthers, with former co-coach, Daniel Harford, taking the reins as interim for the remainder of the year.

St Bernard’s were unable to reclaim their premiership-winning form of 2015 as they battled retirement, a spate of injuries and players moving to VFL level. Unfortunately, the combination of all these things meant they could muster just five wins for the season and suffered relegation one year after tasting ultimate glory. Former AFL assistant coach, Mark Riley, replaced Anthony Rock in the position of senior coach at the start of the season and will lead the Snow Dogs back to the top tier sooner rather than later.

Old Carey struggled to find consistency in 2016 as injuries took their toll and they were relegated with one win for the season. However, the need for future success was made a priority early in the year and the Panthers will return to Premier B knowing full well they require one or two years of development in their bid for sustained success at the top level. Sam Cust was a standout for the young Panthers’ outfit and earnt representative honours in the Big V’s clash against the SAAFL.