With the queen’s birthday weekend behind us, and despite the lack of VAFA football over the past three weeks, we’ve reached the half-way mark of the men’s season. Nine rounds remain in William Buck Premier and it’s time to review the first half of the season for all 10 teams.
St Kevin’s OB (6-1)
Speaking to senior coach, Guy Martyn, on the Saturday Warm-Up ahead of SKOB’s Round 6 game against Old Melburnians, he admitted that – despite sitting second on the ladder – SKOB were just ‘going along’. Most notably, they had kicked just 309 points in their first five games and ranked eighth in that category. It was that match at EP, however, when SKOB stamped their authority on the competition with a commanding 74-point win over OM’s, putting to bed their goal kicking woes with a season-high 19.12 (126) – their first score over 100. They went on to claim a R7 victory over St Bernard’s but most importantly, after kicking a combined 40 goals and 69 behinds in their first five games, they found their range and slotted 32.20 in those two games. Defensively, they continue to dominate, ranking first with 54 points against with Will Coates, Sam Critchley, and Conor Ross patrolling the back 50. Josh Wallis and Tom Jok have been outstanding through the midfield, while Riley Bowman has starred as number one ruck in his first year at the club. Jarrad Waite is yet to return and his presence alongside Tom Boyd will only increase their premiership credentials.
Old Xaverians (5-2)
With James Byrne (coach) and Marcus Stavrou (captain) taking the reins at the start of the season, Old Xaverians quickly established themselves as a serious finals threat yet again with three dominant wins. After defeating St Bernard’s (32) and Old Scotch (94) in the opening two rounds, Xavs dismantled SKOB by 61 points in Round 3 – arguably the win of the season so far. Despite consecutive losses to Uni Blues and Caulfield in Rounds 4 and 5, Xavs hit back and now sit in second spot on the ladder. After kicking 10 goals in Round 1, Rohan Bewick leads a star-studded forward line of Xavier Richards, Julian Soccio, Grant Valles, Michael Batten and Ryan Schoenmakers (when required) that averages a competition-high 100ppg. Stavrou and Dan Robinson will be polling heavily through the midfield, while Jordan Kelly, Jack Noone, Jack Whitehead and Will Hams lead a defence that ranks second behind only SKOB.
University Blues (5-2)
The defending champs underwent significant change ahead of their 2021 campaign with Alex Fasolo, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Sam Grimley and Hugh Goddard replacing premiership players Luke Russell, Josh Green, Clayton Hinkley and Ross Young. More importantly, they appointed Jarred Moore as senior coach to lead alongside captain and two-time Woodrow Medallist, Ayce Cordy. Sitting in third spot on the ladder, Blues have had their ups and down in the first seven rounds, with two incredible come-from-behind victories over Xavs (R4) and Collegians (R5) followed by a surprising 21-point loss to Scotch (R6). After kicking 5.18 (48) in that loss to Scotch, they hit back against Trinity and one would have to think, after two weeks of match cancellations, their experience would put them in the box seat to fire when football returns. Kieran Harper (16), Grimley (13) and Fasolo (11) all sit in the top 15 goal kickers, as does Dan Batarilo (12) who would arguably be leading their B&F alongside Cam O’Shea.
Old Brighton (5-2)
Coming off a Round 7 loss to Old Xavs, the Tonners slipped from second to fourth spot on the ladder but remain a game above those trying to force their way in. They’ve started the season in true Brighton fashion, with a hard-hitting and hard-running style of play led by Harry Hill, Nick Pavlou, and Tom Fisher. They defeated Uni Blues in Round 1 and only just fell to SKOB by three points in Round 2, before going on a four-game winning streak that included wins over Caulfield (52) and OMs (12). Despite injuring his hamstring in their last outing, Jack Watts has been one of the stories of the year after coming to the Old Boys following his AFL career (Melbourne FC and Port Adelaide) and, as he explained on the FTLOTG VAFA Podcast, enjoying his football again.
Caulfield Grammarians (4-3)
The 2019 Premier B champions opened the season under a baptism of A Grade fire and lost their first three games in a row against OMs (54), Uni Blues (20) and Old Brighton (52). Round 4 proved the turning point for the Fields’ season with their 84-point win over Trinity followed by a thrilling six-point victory over Xavs. They’ve since defeated the Snow Dogs and Scotch, stringing together four wins in a row. Most impressively, no team has kicked more points than Caulfield since Round 4 with three scores 100+ at an average of 114.5ppg. Their biggest concern is that they currently ranked eighth for points against. Julian Dobosz (16) and Brett Eddy (15) are the key cogs up forward, while Will Edwards and, more recently Dane Crognale, have dominated through the middle. When the Fields claimed their first win against the T’s, it snapped a 34-year drought in Premier section and defender Joe McClelland joined his father Mark as members of the last two Caulfield teams to win a game in A Grade.
Old Melburnians (4-3)
With Paul Satterley at the helm and the key additions of Sam Dunell, the Haysman and Nichols brothers, it was an explosive start to the season for OMs. They won three from their first four games including two dominant performances against Caulfield (54) and St Bernard’s (56). Of those recruits, Ned Nichols has been the standout and would currently sit as firm favourite for the Mecwacare Men’s Rising Star with 13 goals from his five games. Sam Dunell has also been superb in his three games while he juggles a coaching role with Sandringham. They suffered consecutive losses to Brighton (12) and SKOB (74) in Rounds 5 and 6, where they also posted two of their four scores of 65 or less. On the flip side, in three of their four wins, OMs have posted totals of 98 points or more. While their scoring output is either hot or cold with no in between, defensively, OMs have allowed just one score above 78 – ranking fourth for points against thanks largely to Josh Freezer and Oscar Hosking.
Old Scotch (3-4)
Scotch re-entered William Buck Premier after playing off in the 2019 Premier B Grand Final against Caulfield and kicked-started their season with a comprehensive Round 1 win over Old Trinity. In what has been a season of ups and downs for the young Cardinals, they showcased what they’re capable of in Round 6 when they defeated Uni Blues by 21 points. Defensively, Scotch has kept their opponents to 57 points or less in their three wins, but it’s been the other end of the ground where they’ve struggled, averaging a competition-low 56ppg. Brodie Easton has been a standout from an individual perspective, while Max Martin has top-scored with eight goals. They’ll be hoping for a return-to-health from their skipper Gene Van Den Broek after he managed two games in the first half of the season. As the race tightens at the bottom end of the ladder, wins against teams like Uni Blues and St Bernard’s will go a long way to helping Scotch maintain Premier status beyond 2021.
St Bernard’s (2-5)
Another team with a new senior coach, the Snow Dogs welcomed former Monash Blues and Western Bulldogs AFLW coach Paul Groves to the Snake Pit this season. It was an incredible start to the year with two wins and just the one loss (32 points to Old Xavs) but they’ve struggled in the past four rounds – unable to kick more than seven goals in any of those losses. Inaccuracy has dogged Bernard’s, with 28 goals and 56 behinds their output since the string of losses commenced. Ben Overman, Charlie Vague, Jarrod Walters and Jordan Farrell have been standouts for the young Pups, while Marcus Holland has kicked 12 goals – including a bag of six in Round 1.
Describing Collegians’ opening seven rounds as ‘tough’ would be an understatement as they’ve battled injuries to key personnel and lost three games by eight points or less. After kicking a season-low 4.9 (33) in their Round 1 loss to SKOB, the Lions started to find scoreboard consistency over the ensuing four rounds but failed to get over Bernard’s (7), Brighton (8) and Uni Blues (3). Their ruck stocks have taken a battering with John Meesen – who came to the club as an assistant to Jared Rivers – playing a Shane Mumford-type role and rucking for five games due to injuries. Skipper Sam Hibbins returned for his first game of the season in Round 7, while David Mirra has arguably been the most damaging player in the competition since arriving this season. Viv Michie and Tom Sheridan have unsurprisingly been impressive through the midfield along with young star Josh Watson, but they’ll be hoping for the return of Ben Darrou and Al Fahie down back among a host of others as they try to escape the bottom two.
Old Trinity (0-7)
At 0-7 and with a new coach at the helm, it’s been a rollercoaster season for the T’s as they enter the second half of the year trying to secure their first win. It was difficult to predict how the T’s would go after winning five games in 2019, but they’ve since entered rebuild mode with interim senior coach James Francis replacing Bernie Dinneen after their Round 5 loss to SKOB. Looking toward the future and with the youngest playing group in the competition, the T’s have blooded several debutants and been well-served by their next crop of stars – including, Alex Emery, Anthony Larkey, Hugo McGlashen, and Sam Mason. With five games of 95 points or more against them, the T’s have struggled defensively with an average of 103 against. The next month could be difficult with matches against Caulfield, Uni Blues and Brighton.