Anna Pavlou – @Annalyst_Sports
Welcome to 2018! Division 2 is already looking like another close battle with all 10 teams rightfully believing they have a chance of playing finals this season. We are joined by four new sides from above and below – Division 3 premiers UHS-VU and runners-up Power House while St Johns and Whitefriars join us from Division 1. All four new sides will be looking to make an impression in their new section while the remaining six teams will all lay claim to a finals berth and beyond.
2017 was an incredibly close season, with only a few games separating the top four and relegation and weekly unpredictability and upsets. We can expect more of the same this year with all teams looking evenly matched again.
Let’s look at this year’s Division 2 contenders…
The Bullants finished seventh with seven wins and 11 losses and are looking to improve their 2018 chances with the return of captain Michael Pace on the ball and across half-back.
The appointment of club legend Paul Robinson to the role of senior coach will lift the Bullants. Robbo’s playing career highlights reel is as good as any in the VAFA.
With the loss of 2017 B&F Brodie McLaughlin, the Bullants will rely heavily on the likes of Pace, Leith Wallis, Billy Wilson and Jack Cowell to lead them to glory and their first flag since 2012.
The Turtles recent off field dramas have been well-documented and with a 2017 record of 7-11 they finished eighth and avoided relegation by just 4.83 percent. The club has rallied late in the pre-season due to a lack of numbers but are now prepared to take on this season with expectation.
Senior coach John Garrard returns to the driver’s seat after almost 10 years away and will bring his successful brand of football back to the Turtles. He has a knack of producing finals teams and knows what it takes to win.
The Turtles boasted the fifth best defence last year but were the second-lowest scoring team with most of their points coming from Fraser Cloney and Tim Woods who booted nearly 100 goals between them in 2017.
Eltham will need another big year from Mathew Crooks and Troy Jinnette to give them a shot at finals.
Emmaus St Leo’s
In 2017, the Animals finished sixth with a 9-9 record and missed the finals by a game. Over the summer, the Animals have been rebuilding their team and their new clubrooms which will be the envy of most VAFA clubs.
Gun forwards Chris Beluszar and Daniel Hill shared 70 goals between them last year so the Animals will look to the twin towers as their key to 2018 success.
Senior coach Jason Fennell has been working his troops hard through pre-season and alongside his senior leadership team of Chris Beluszar, Harry Davis and Jon Kapiniaris will have the boys primed for Round 1 and a shot at finals football.
Melbourne High School Old Boys
After dropping five of their first six games in 2017, the Unicorns went on to win 10 out of their last 12 to finish 3rd with an 11-7 record. They were surprisingly beaten by Old Paradians in the first semi-final by three points which was a disappointing end to a promising finals campaign.
The Unicorns will build on their great second half of 2017 and will look to 2017 B&F winner James Tran to continue his stellar form and lead from the front. With Kane Smith (42 goals in 2017) patrolling the forward line and nine players kicking double figure goals last season, the evenness and spread of the Unicorns will trouble all contenders.
With Tim Campbelj and Mitch Wilson expected to play key roles again, the Unicorns are primed for a shot at the big dance in 2018.
Finishing fourth in 2017 after beating MHSOB in a thrilling first semi-final and bowing out of contention after a loss to Brunswick in the preliminary final by 27 points, the Raiders are eager to take the necessary steps to reach premiership glory in 2018.
One of the 2018 competition favourites had a 10-8 record last season and despite a slow start, won six in a row mid-year to secure their finals berth.
Consistent scoring came from Michael Boundy (30 goals in 17 games) who is expected to be at his best again in 2018.
Consistency is a key feature of the Raiders side and they’ll be looking to David Huntley, Warren Jeffreys and Chris Kandilakis to build on their game-changing form and lead the premiership contenders into 2018.
The 2017 minor premiers finished their Division 3 campaign with a 16-2 record, but fell short when it mattered most and were beaten by UHS-VU in the grand final. The House now move into Division 2 for the first time since 2000 and are ready for redemption in an even section.
Five-year senior coach Anthony Voyage moves into a new Director of Coaching role to make way for newly appointed Senior Coach, VAFA legend Dave Matthews, a century goal kicker for Caufield Grammarians and premiership coach for University Blues and Bulleen Templestowe. The House have also added former Western Bulldogs player Paul Dooley to the coaching team.
The loss of star forward Nick Nagel comes at a cost, but the return of best and fairest winner Fiachra O’Deasmunaghiagh as well as some handy recruits will steady the ship at the Ross Gregory.
With small forward River Carroll (40 goals) and Ben Circosta, as well as the return of Rhys Gregory to support veteran Adam Collett, Power House should make the most of their 2018 opportunities.
St John’s 2017 season is one the club is keen to put behind them. Relegated from Division 1 with a 3-15 record, the club has made some wholesale off-field changes in a bid to return some on-field success.
Despite the Joc’s failing to kick 100 points in any game last year, forward Aaron Thornton booted 55 goals, and was well supported by Tim Edwards (34) and Matt Collett (23). 2016 Fullerton Medallist and captain Glenn Costas, had a great year again winning the club best and fairest.
The Jocs will be looking to Dan Cattolico and Corey Ely to lift again to ensure they right the ship in 2018.
Senior coach Brendan Payne led his men to a stellar Division 3 grand final victory over Power House by 21 points, which secured their spot in Division 2 for the first time in nine years.
The Vultures dominated Division 3, with a 15-3 record and a widespread of contributors across the ground, including Grand Final BOG Brandon Jackson, who kicked 42 goals and averaged 18 disposals and newly-appointed co-captains Charlie Jackson and Joseph Turner.
While they lose Ryan Smith, they retain veteran forward Mitch Sweeney (63 goals in 2017) along with a variety of goal kickers, 10 of which kicked double figures in 2018.
Watch out for Esubalew Ramsay who finished fourth in the Hutchinson Medal.
Relegated from Division 1 with a 2-16 record, the Friars are hungry to redeem themselves and prove their worth in Division 2 this season.
Pre-season numbers have been impressive and the word is that there is plenty of quality amongst their newcomers, with captain Daniel Massarrotti leading from the front.
The appointment of former college First XVIII coach and current Whitefriars teacher Kristan Height will breathe new spirit into the competitive side and give them a chance to make up for last season’s disappointment.
With guidance from vice-captain Michael Nitas (42 goals in 2017) and Angus Hands, both selected in the Division 1 2017 Team of the Year, the Friars men are in prime position to make their mark this season.
Yarra Old Grammarians
The Bushrangers finished 2017 with nine wins, but missed out on finals after dropping six of their last seven games.
They’ve been busy in the off-season recruiting the ‘North Ringwood 5’ to work alongside 2017 Best and Fairest David Wildsmith, Simon Yeo and forward Nick Chamberlain (43 goals in 2017) to create a balanced outfit.
If Yarra can develop some back half support to assist key defender Jackson Maloney, they will be in contention come finals.
Add a now-fit Ryan Pollard, elite skier Bailey Johnson and returning midfielder Benny Trend.
With returning President Ron Garlepp amassing an impressive coaching team, the expectations at Doncaster Reserve are high.
Top four: Whitefriars, MHSOB, Old Paradians, Yarra Old Grammarians
Premiers: Old Paradians
Leading Goal Kicker: Kristian Cherbakof