The 2018 Premier B season is upon us.
We bid farewell to both Old Brighton and Old Scotch as they both return to William Buck Premier after earning deserved promotion via a 2017 grand final appearance, while Fitzroy and Peninsula will look to reload upon their relegation to Premier C.
However, this means we welcome four new sides into Premier B and excitement surrounds the impact University Blacks, Beaumaris, Old Haileybury and Caulfield Grammarians will have on this section in 2018.
What this also means is we now have Mark ‘Choco’ Williams (Ajax), Mark ‘Bomber’ Riley (St Bernard’s) and the newly-appointed Guy ‘Bluey’ McKenna (Beaumaris) each coaching in the VAFA’s second-highest section. The ability of our clubs to attract first-class talent has always been strong and these three former AFL leaders are a prime example.
In his second year at the helm, Mark Williams will look to build upon his side’s nine wins from 2017 where they missed finals by a game and a tick over 10%. They were the only other real finals contender for most of the season but were unable to convert their strengths into regular and consistent on-field success. A significant loss of players to the Maccabi Games offered little assistance en route to a potential finals berth. Ajax stalwart, Oliver Hoffman, spoke with VAFA Media and said the first season under Choco helped build the foundations of a successful game plan, with the Games allowing several reserves players the chance to experience senior football and fast-track their development. “Everyone is very much excited (about the prospect of finals) and we know exactly what we need to do and how to do it,” he said.
A year after claiming the Premier B flag, Beaumaris found the going tough in 2017 and recorded just three wins for a 10th-placed finish and subsequent relegation. However, they finished the year strongly after winning their first game in Round 14 so should enter 2018 with a mild breath of confidence. Guy McKenna’s appointment as senior coach bodes as the perfect partnership with the Sharks as they look to develop their young talent over the next two or three years for a chance at sustained success in William Buck Premier.
After winning 16 of their 18 home and away games, it was a disappointing end to the Fields’ year when they went down to Old Haileybury by 48 points at Casey Fields. Despite this, they did earn promotion and it was well-deserved after a straight sets exit in 2016. Declan Reilly was unstoppable forward of centre with 53 goals tying him as leading goal kicker with the Bloods’ Nathan Waite. Jesse Toniolo’s departure for the SFNL is certainly a loss, but the Fields will rely on stars, Tim Nixon and Will Barker, as they aim to become Premier B mainstays yet again.
Joining Premier B after securing the 2016 Premier C flag, the Nodders were up against it after two rounds last year whereby they suffered huge losses to St Bernard’s (113) and Old Brighton (74). As such they improved to snatch eight wins and finish sixth, including five victories by less than three goals but their percentage of 70.48 meant they were rarely in finals conversation. Once again, their season looks destined to be decided in the first three rounds with tough clashes against Uni Blacks, Ajax and Beaumaris. If they can claim two wins, it will go a long way to setting up a successful 2018.
Making the finals was a sensational effort for the Blues in 2017 after they commenced the season 2-4. They did, however, fall short of progressing passed week one for the second year in a row when they fell to St Bernard’s by 13 points. Six wins from their last seven games gives them confidence heading into Round 1. A huge group of ins offsets the potential loss of Big U19’s representative Ethan East and a few others, but expect the Blues to improve yet again this season.
Off-season recruitment had the VAFA world talking about the Panthers at length in the early stages of last year, but the season never really got going as they won just six of their 18 games. Former Carlton and GWS utility, Kristian Jaksch, joins the likes of Marc Lock, Jason Ashby and Sam Cust as the Panthers’ top-end talent continues to grow. With a season under their belts at Premier B level, fully expect the Panthers’ to make a charge for finals in 2018.
Old Haileybury surprised some pundits with their grand final victory last year, making it two from their past three years. The Bloods finished second with 11 wins and five behind grand final opponents Caulfield but, as they did in 2015, exploded on the main stage and ran out 48-point winners. Their list hasn’t undergone much change as they rely on Team of the Year representatives Peter Shakallis, James Paul and Nathan Waite to ensure a prolonged stay in Premier B this time around.
The Vultures avoided relegation by the smallest of margins in 2017 and will be keen to ensure they stay in Premier B prior to Round 18 this year. They’ll enter the season with a much younger but exciting group after the retirement of captain Tim Boland and departure of leading goal kicker Matt Boland. 2016 GT Moore Medallist and star midfielder, Charlie Dillon, is the newly-appointed skipper at the Vultures and firmly believes the club can produce an improved performance this season. Dillon’s thirst for the contest is second-to-none and we can expect an exciting brand of football under his leadership through 2018.
The Snow Dogs returned to Premier B strongly last year with four wins to start the season, but eventually missed the double chance and went down to Old Scotch in one of the all time classic preliminary finals. Heading into this season under Mark Riley, the Snow Dogs have a number of talented players on VFL lists, including Chris Peart and Edyn Sibbald, but several inclusions means they will threaten Premier B yet again.
Needing an unlikely Round 18 victory over St Kevin’s at the end of last season, the Blacks were unable to secure the win and will therefore return to Premier B after six years. Injuries and unavailability’s derailed their season last year and many argue they were the strongest team in long time to suffer relegation. 2018 bodes as the year of the Blacks with players the ilk of Bede Mahon (reigning Woodrow Medallist), Lochie Dornauf and Hugh Curnow set to dominate Premier B. Unfortunately, the Blacks will be without star play-maker, Tyrone Bean, who will sit out the season with an injured ACL.