By Nick Armistead – @NickArmistead
Half way through the William Buck Premier season and we are no closer to predicting the outcome of a year proving to be one of the closest in recent memory. With the mid-season break upon us, those not participating in this weekend’s Big V match against the SAAFL will have time to rest, reflect and decipher how best to attack the second half of the season.
Round 9 results mirrored the often-inseparable nature of the competition’s 10 sides, with a last-minute tie, a one-point thriller, a pair of matches decided by two goals or less and a fifth consecutive win for one of the ever-improving Uni outfits.
Old Trinity were unable to curb the clutch player of William Buck Premier in the dying moments of Saturday’s blockbuster against Old Melburnians, with Al Armstrong unloading a 50m inverse torpedo from the boundary with 10 seconds remaining on the clock to steal a tie they likely thought unattainable for most of the match. Trailing by 10 points with one quarter to play in horrid Melbourne conditions, OMs fought in the same vein they’ve battled the first half of the season and kicked three goals to one in final term. Armstrong’s third goal for the day sent the Daley Oval visitors wild and proved he possesses the Kobe Bryant clutch gene after also kicking a last-term major in his side’s Round 6 two-point victory over Old Xaverians. This week’s goal smashed all VAFA HQ Facebook records in the ensuing days as the public reacted positively to one of the moments of the season. Nick Daish and Nick De Steiger fought valiantly for OMs, with the latter a shoe-in for William Buck Premier ruckman should a mid-year team of the year exist. The T’s weren’t without their stars, with Ned Hunt and Big V captain, Harry Tinney, exuding class in the harsh conditions, while Luther Juric continued his first-class form showcased over the past month. Losing Luke Pacconi to injury hurt the T’s chances considerably, as the mid-sized defender has arguably been their most important player this season. Two losses and a tie in consecutive weeks lost the T’s top spot on the ladder, but the successful return of Brendan Iezzi through the reserves, among a host of other returnees, places the T’s in the box seat entering the last nine games.
University Blues took their defensive efforts to the next level in their Round 8 match-up against St Kevin’s, keeping their opponents to just three goals and winning by one point at Uni Oval. Unbelievably, the Blues past five games have been decided by an average of 4.3 points, while their average winning margin over the past three games is just 3.2. Plain and simple, they get it done. Despite the fact they kicked just two goals for the match (mind-blowing in itself), the Blues took their overall tally to 6-3 at the half way mark and successfully welcomed back ruckman/forward, Cam Williams, who registered one of their majors. Will Cuningham’s form continues to go from strength to strength, with the running defender best on ground for the second time in three weeks. Tom Silvestro returned from the VFL and displayed poise and skill under pressure and, if the Blues can get Tim Geappen back in the coming weeks, will have a starting 22 capable of knocking off any opponent in any conditions; including finals. St Kevin’s enter the break in eighth position at 4-5, and can ill afford to drop more than two games on the run home if they are to compete come finals time. Will Coates stood tall as their best player, while Stephen Gilham kicked two-thirds of their final score.
At this stage last year, De La Salle were languishing in last spot on the ladder before making an unparalleled run in the second half of the year and finishing fourth overall. However, this year they are placed at the other end of the scale, with their 10-point come-from-behind victory against St Bernard’s placing them on top of the ladder and the only team with seven wins. Ed Clinch arrived for his first outing of the year and kicked three goals, while Nick Curwood and Jacob Gotch were irrepressible. Antony Forato left the field early with a soft tissue injury, but is unlikely to miss an extended period of time. Despite having won just the single game thus far, the Snow Dogs possess a playing squad and coaching staff whose talent and ability could replicate the unprecedented feats accomplished by De La in 2015 and string an unbeaten run together. I mean, they are still the reigning champs. Their last four losses have come at an average margin of just 10.75 points. They’re always in it and, with the return of a number of injured stars, something will click.
University Blacks are still the form side of the competition, with their 50-point victory against Old Carey making it five in a row after losing three of their first four. Their fully-functioning forward line performed again and registered the second-highest score of the round, with Tom Sharp returning and helping himself to a bag of five in the absence of Lochy Dornauf. Sharp and Dornauf, as well as Alastair Robbins, Jordan Quaile, Lachlan Huntington, Hugh Curnow and Charlie Richardson form one of the most formidable attacks in William Buck Premier and all currently rolling at 95%. The Panthers’ first half of the season has been the most unsuccessful since Caulfield Grammarians went 0-9 in 2012 but all signs point to continual improvement. Andrew Sloan is a defensive star, while Sam Cust, Ben Smithwick and the rest of the young playing group will get number one on the board sooner rather than later.
Collegians enter the bye ahead of the curb, defeating Old Xaverians by 12 points at Harry Trott Oval and taking their mid-year report card to 5-4 and just one win outside the four. The usual names of Lindsay Apted, Andrew Scott, Chris Middleton and Tom Penberthy were among the best in the hard-fought mud-fest, while Tom Williams and Chris Margin did their utmost for the 4-5 Xavs. Importantly for the Xavs, they welcomed back vice-captain, Ben Kennedy, Dan Noonan and Marcus Allen after extended periods away from the field, and will be hoping to see skipper, John Shaw, competing at each ruck contest post-break. At this point, the final four is anyone’s guess.