Round 1 VAFA Division 4 football is now just days away and with the competition expanding to 10 teams for season 2018, there is no better opportunity to preview each team and see where each side is placed heading into the weekend.
North Brunswick AFC
Finishing the home & away season just percentage out of the top spot, the Bulls went on to exit the finals series in straight sets with losses to Aquinas and the Manningham Cobras in what was a disappointing end to the season for Marcus Butera’s men. Club best and fairest winner, Will Croagh, will still control the North Brunswick midfield, while making the lives of the competitions’ second-highest-scoring forward line consisting of leading goal kicker Jake George and his forward partners Pat Notaro and Peter Butler easier. The second best defensive back six should also remain rock-solid with Max Coutts leading a defence that only allowed 54 points a game last year. The loss of OJ Meehan Medal runner-up Adam Densten will put a big hole in the Bulls’ midfield but with both Aquinas and the Cobras heading to Division 3 and Marcus Butera still at the helm, North Brunswick may be the team to beat for season 2018.
Mt Lilydale OC
After years of mid-table results, the Rams were able to back up a strong 2016 campaign with another finals appearance and a 7-8 record with a draw last year. New head coach, Mark Holly, will have the task of improving a forward line that only managed 72-points a game, while also building some talent around Timothy Legg in defence and working to dwindle down the 90-points a game conceded each match. Jesse Lehmann, Aaron Potter and Thomas Bailey will all return for this season and continue to push the Rams’ midfield in the right direction, with another finals appearance and maybe even more, on the horizon.
Eley Park Sharks
The Sharks finished the 2017 season with seven wins and just failed to make the top four, missing out by just two premiership points behind the Rams. The fourth highest scoring team in the competition last season will return with their bolstered forward line lead by captain Jesiah Mcgarvie, Leigh Booth and Christopher Brown. Head coach, Michael Polley, will need to continue to work with his midfield, building around veteran Matt Dyson and getting the best out of him. Despite their outstanding scoring ability, the Sharks’ defensive back six conceded the third most points per game last season at just over 99 a game, which included allowing 173 points to Aquinas in Round 7. The season Jonathan Kiklis had cannot be understated, but he needs a lot more help down back if the Sharks want to move up the ladder in 2018.
Like Eley Park, Elstenwick finished just two points outside the top four last year but are looking at a strong run this season and a return to Division 3. The oldest district club in the VAFA struggled both offensively and defensively last year, finishing fifth in scoring at 75 a game and fourth in points against at 89. But, with Division 4 giants Aquinas and Manningham out of the picture, it clears up room for Elsternwick to increase their scoring output and tighten their defensive structures against a far more even competition. Andrew Oldfield will return for another year after a very successful personal 2017 season, while Adrian Costa and Richie Main could be in for big years after promising pre-seasons. Julian Yeatman has taken up the role of captaincy and brought an influx of new players to the club hopeful of making finals this year.
The Devils’ biggest issue from last season was their inability to score, ranking last in points at just under 60 a game. Thankfully, their defensive pressure and structure was something Ricky Frost’s men could hang their hat on, sitting sixth in the competition at 93 a game. But despite having an average losing margin of over five goals a contest, Parkside still finished with five wins for the year, including a four-goal win over Elsternwick and a 37-point victory over Mount Lilydale. Defenders Anthony Waters and Isaac Romero both represented the Devils in the back six of the Div 4 Team of the Year, and there is no reason as to why that shouldn’t continue into this season. Getting points on the board will be the biggest area of improvement for Frost and his coaching staff.
Despite registering just two wins and a draw next to their name last year, the Tigers have had a fantastic off-season. Securing a new home ground in Dandenong at Fotheringham Reserve, a new head coach in Alan Sutherland who has 22 years of coaching experience at Emmaus St Leo’s, Old Eltham Collegians and Albert Park, and continued their close work with multicultural Australians with a large majority of players coming from an indigenous or multicultural background. Masala can learn from their 2017 season and focus on improving and developing their young and exciting prospects on a great home ground where goals from the centre will be a lot harder to kick.
St Francis Xavier OC
Second-last in scoring (62 points a game) and last in opposition scoring (117 points a game) left St Francis Xavier at the wrong end of a lot of some high-scoring performances with just two wins for the season. The 2011 Division 4 premiers will be looking to shake the negativity of the wooden spoon and an average losing margin of over 50 points with a strong 2018 season, which began with an outstanding off-season. A new-look committee has already given a fresh feel to the proud VAFA club that is St Francis Xavier, but on-field play will be what delivers results, and the sheer amount of inclusions ahead of the 2018 season has those in Beaconsfield quietly confident of major improvement this year.
Box Hill North
One of the three new additions to the Division 4 competition for season 2018, the Box Hill North Football Club finished with a 13-1 record in the Club XVIII (2) competition last year, which included a premiership victory by 57-points over Chadstone. With an average winning margin of 53 in the Club XVIII (2) competition, Box Hill North cannot be taken lightly upon their return to Division 4. It all kicks off in a massive Round 1 blockbuster against Parkside at Elgar Park this weekend.
The Tigers finished third after the home and away fixture in Club XVIII (1) last season with eight wins, four losses and three draws, while also finishing runners-up on Grand Final Day to Old Xaverians. The Tigers will be a competitive side in the Division 4 comp this season, known for being a strong defensive team with the ability to restrict teams to low scores (average of 48 points conceded a game last year), they should be able to use that same ‘grit and grind’ style of play this season.
South Melbourne Districts
The third and final team to be injected into Division 4 this season is South Melbourne Districts, who come from Division 3 after a winless season last year. Going up against the likes of Powerhouse and UHS-VU was always going to make it tough for South Melbourne, but to go winless for the entire season was something they definitely weren’t expecting. Averaging a league-low of just 46-points a game while conceding a league-high 131-points, the Swans struggled with injury and a lack of player availability. Steve Clarke was the lone bright spot for South Melbourne last season as he was able to crack into the Division 3 Team of the Year and represent the Bloods. A disappointing year is now behind them, and a fresh start awaits this proud club as they begin their stride back towards the top.