Defensive acts will be the Premiership winning acts

Posted on - Latest News, Premier Men's, Featured

Joe Pignataro

Three home and away games remaining before September. The final chances for teams at the top of the ladder to finetune gameplans, and breakdown the opposition walls. 

The top four sides won’t meet one another this weekend, but the four of them are doing a merry little defensive dance as a sideshow to the main event in 2023. 

The benchmark for defensive output across the past two seasons has been St Kevin’s. Anthony Lynch has set about implementing an 18-man press that focuses on strangling and stifling the opposition. 

In the premiership year of 2022, St Kevin’s only conceded 51 points per game. On Grand Final day, 24. In 2023, the number has climbed to 60 points per game. It’s still in the window of a Premiership winning defence. 

They’re ranked second only to Collegians. The Lions are the only team to have kicked over 100 points against SKOB since the 2019 William Buck Premier Grand Final. Think about that for a moment, once in 46 games they’ve conceded over triple figures. 

While never being prolific scorers themselves, the last fortnight has seen them have 75 shots at goal, compared to the opposition’s 26. 

Josh Tynan, Jack Andriske, Michael Pisker, Sam Cameron have been holding down the fort of the backline. This weekend is going to be a wonderful welcome back to the skipper, Sam Critchley.

Old Melburnians were able to keep Old Xaverians to 55 points last weekend. Only the second time this year they’ve kept a team under 70 points. 

Finally, after 14 weeks of losses, Round 15 was the first time they’ve won a first quarter in 2023. How will they go should Port Melbourne recall Tom Cameron and Dylan Clarke, and if George Hurley-Wellington can’t get out of work?

Will Gus Borthwick follow up his best on ground display with a second one after 12 months out of the game?

Paul Satterley hasn’t beaten St Kevin’s in his time at the OM’s, it’s a must win game for them if they want to continue in William Buck Premier, or hope for other results to fall in their favour. 

Collegians can all but lock up top spot on Saturday when they face off against Old Haileybury. Despite only being a game clear of University Blues, the 182% is streets ahead of the next best. 

The Purple Army have been entertaining throughout the year, playing quick fast-moving footy, moving the ball on at all costs. Which has allowed Ed Greene and Will Pocknee (34 goals each) and Dave Mirra (33 goals) to find space in the forward 50 arc to be effective. 

At the other end of the ground, Matt Warren has been the general in leading this side to being ranked #1 for defence, just 54 points against in 2023.. Handy lieutenants by his side, Luke McCleary and Sam Sofrinidis. 

These three men were all part of the Big V squad selected by Greg Hutchison and are the reason Collegians are #1 for efficiency when it comes to exiting defensive 50. 

The SS Long-Sleeve is having a stellar season and according to VAFA Media’s Josh Heriot, ‘Sof’ would be leading the Lions best and fairest, and he wouldn’t be out of place on the podium on Woodrow Medal night. 

A slip-up last weekend against University Blacks has left Old Haileybury in a vulnerable position with percentage holding them in eighth spot. For all the talk about the key VFL playmakers, and ex-AFL talent in the side, Hugo Nosiara is laying claim to be the next big thing in the Bloods defence. 

A rising star nomination a fortnight ago franked his form. While OM’s must win to get past Old Haileybury. Daniel Ward’s side must win to stay ahead of Paul Satterley’s OM’s. 

Should both sides take the L, the percentage gap will be the biggest watch with a fortnight to go. 

A week ago, Old Scotch went into Round 15 against St Kevin’s as a team on the rise. The return to their early season form, players returning, and a fit Sam Grant in the ruck. 

The St Kevin’s strangle was on early and the Cardinals weren’t able to get the game on their terms at all. This weekend, facing off against University Blacks will prove just as big of a challenge.

Blacks are 5-1 in the last six weeks. With a percentage of 134% in that time. In four of the six games they’ve kept the opposition to under 55 points. In two of those four results, under 30 points. 

The best defender in the competition plays at Uni Blacks, Campbell Moorfield. Collegians the only side who refused to kick it in his direction three weeks ago. If the Cardinals want to win, the same rule has to be applied. 

Uni Blacks rank first for spoils, pressure acts, and second for overall pressure. It’s no surprise they’ve been able to nullify and squeeze the likes of St Kevin’s, Old Xaverians and Old Melburnians in consecutive weeks. 

Old Scotch at this point last year were conceding 88 points per game. Prior to the weekend, that number was down to 61. A four and a half goal better defensive side is nothing to be sneezed at. 

Jordan Clarke was one of the best last week, his intercept marking was on display. Ben Hays, Jack Polkinghorne, Jack Brown all need to go to another level this weekend. Particularly when the Blacks midfield will almost be spoon fed by an in-form Josh Steadman. 

A double chance is certainly not out of the equation for Old Scotch. Uni Blacks however, might want to have a say on the shaping of the final four in this contest. 

University Blues returned to their high-scoring best last weekend against Caulfield. This weekend they’ll be out for vengeance against the Old Xaverians

After being held to four goals against the red and black mafia earlier on in the year, these two sides have taken different paths in the home and away rounds since. 

Only twice this year, the defence hasn’t been able to hold back the momentum of opposition sides. The rest of the time nothing has gone past Marty Gleeson, Tom Young, Tom Cutler and Jack Stephens. 

Without the two thrashings by Old Scotch and Collegians, the University Blues are only conceding eight goals a game against the rest of William Buck Premier. They get more than enough looks at the goal at the other end to complement the work of the defence. 

It’s a very young defensive unit that has played for the Old Xaverians this year, the off-season was spent attempting to replace Ryan Schoenmakers, Will Hams, Ben Banting, Brad Olsson. Key pillars of any backline. It’s been tough right around the ground for them, particularly across Round 13, 14 and 15, conceding 112, 98 and 108 points in those three matches. 

Since Xav’s kicked 20 goals against Caulfield in Round 11, they’ve only managed 22 in the past four weeks. They’ll obviously be keen to boost that number in the RSN Xtra2 Match of the Day to stop the questions and speculation that they may be heading to Premier B if they lose the final three matches and their percentage takes a plummet. 

Old Brighton has left their run to the finals too late. However, last weekend was a great indicator of what this side is capable of. 

Caulfield Grammarians will be the next side to feel the full force of the Tonners as they aim to finish off 2023 full of momentum leading into the pre-season. 

The Brighton chirp was on turned to full exposure last weekend, coupled with the defensive acts that have always been the number one area for the lads of Brighton Beach Oval.

Ranked #1 in smothers, tackles, tackling efficiency, defensive 50 tackles. They love the grunt work, and they relish doing so. Tom Yorgey across the half-back flank is the epitome of all that is Old Brighton. 

Sam Collins is a quiet unassuming character that is also a weekly part of the back six whilst Kai Dimattina has worked into his senior career floating across the backline. 

Caulfield has arguably the best young defender in the game. Oscar Roberts. It’s no surprise to anyone that we’ve saved the best until last when it comes to highlighting some of the magnificent defenders this competition has.

Roberts has had to battle out of his division in weight, in size, in speed throughout 2023. And for the most part, he has stood up to the task. 

Guy McKenna has been glowing in his endorsement of Roberts, and in time, he may well be the one leading the Fields into battle beyond 2023. 

Last year there was an obvious front-runner at this point of the year if we’re to follow the old adage of defence winning premierships.

This year the defensive units of the top four stack up. Blues have clamped Collegians, Collegians have owned St Kevin’s, St Kevin’s have swallowed Scotch, and Scotch have stifled the Blues. 

Those four sides have got three weeks to work out how to break through the great walls and pillars that have been set up to kick a winning score in the month that matters the most. September.

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