One of the few highlights of 2020 was certainly the ability of the AFL to administer a season in some shape or form. Without Amateur football to consume our Saturday afternoons, nights, Sundays and the rest of the week, the AFL (and late-night World Championship Darts) provided its share of respite.
Now, we have no such problem. We are back, teams are firing, and the names entering William Buck Premier have once again elevated the competition to another level. At the risk of sounding flippant or seeming forgetful after 18 months away from footy, the quality of the teams in Premier is as strong as most would have seen. Perhaps ever.
A year off brought about significant change for the reigning premiers, but the Blues are no less intimidating than two years ago. After one season and a premiership added to his incredible CV, Heath Jamieson relocated to Queensland last year and the Blues replaced him with former Sydney Swan Jarred Moore at the helm. While the departures of players such as Clayton Hinkley, Luke Russell, Josh Green and Ross Young would decimate most sides, the Blues have since welcomed Alex Fasolo, Jay Kennedy-Harris, Hugh Goddard, Ed Vickers-Willis, Sam Grimley and Rhys Hultgren. If Brian Waldron thought the 2019 Blues was the strongest side we’ve ever seen on paper, the 2021 version has just surpassed it.
St Kevin’s OB
Since 2015, SKOB has been the strongest outfit in the VAFA, but fell short of a third consecutive William Buck flag against Uni Blues in 2019. The biggest change from a structural point of view is the retirement of club champion, Anthony Lynch, but SKOB supporters will be salivating over the return of Tom Jok from his time with Essendon. Patrick Kerr, Jarryd Cachia and Josh Wallis come in and we could witness a Jarrad Waite/Tom Boyd forward 50. With VFL and Big V duo, Gerard Gleeson and Billy Kanakis, set to spend more time at the club, the possibilities here start and end with finals.
After finishing second at the end of the 2019 home and away season and then bowing out in straight sets, Old Xaverians set about ensuring history doesn’t repeat in 2021. James Byrne will lead the Xavs in his first season as senior coach, with the additions of Ryan Schoenmakers (Hawthorn), Xavier Richards (Sydney) and Sam Crocker (Old Carey) joining Rohan Bewick, Matt Handley, Jason Holmes, Will Hams, Dan Robinson and a host of young talent. Those are names that can (and will) go toe-to-toe with the most recent grand finalists.
Collegians is another team heading into the season under the leadership of a new senior coach, with Jared Rivers settling in at Harry Trott for the past 18 months. While they’ve lost forward trio Lachie Ferguson (Wonthaggi), Will Johnson (Sorrento) and Anthony Bruhn (Warragul Industrials), the Lions have gained serious talent and leadership in former Docker and Giant Tom Sheridan, Bulldogs VFL captain Josh Prudden and ex- Hawk David Mirra. Sam Hibbins will excel as skipper and, if the Lions can stay healthy, they are clearly in the finals mix.
The Tonners were as exciting as any side in 2019, finishing fifth and just half a game short of finals. Will Lewis, Nick Pavlou, Hamish Dick (Rising Star winner) and Lachie Filipovic were players who took their game to the next level, while Harry Hill, Tom Fisher, and Anthony Zimmerman are worth the price of carparking at Brighton Beach. A team who has relied heavily on the school for talent over the past few years, one cannot wait to see how the inclusion of former Brighton student and number one draft pick, Jack Watts, is going to take Greg Hutchison’s boys to another level.
There’s a lot of excitement at Old Melburnians heading in 2021, and for good reason. Paul Satterley has taken the reigns as senior coach following a remarkable stint from Nathan Brown, and he will bring the run and gun style that took De La and Old Xaverians to finals in recent years. Sam Dunell is the key inclusion for OM’s alongside former Blacker Lachie Haysman and his brother Josh. Josh Freezer, Tom Paule, Gus Borthwick (2019 Premier Coaches MVP) and Jackson Paine are the backbone of this talent-riddled team, and there’s a sense of anticipation that this may be the year that leads to Premier finals.
Speaking to new senior coach Paul Groves on last week’s FTLOTG VAFA Podcast, expect to see a younger St Bernard’s side running around the Snake Pit in 2021. Michael Caven, Conor Riley, Luke Di Lizio and Chris Peart are the key departures, but a fit Simon Caven and internal growth of Charlie Vague, Marcus Holland, Ben Huggard et al, the Snow Dogs will certainly test sides in front of the home crowd.
As a Trinity (and Big V) supporter, this year’s celebrations started when Anthony Scott debuted for the Western Bulldogs in Round 1. The T’s will be looking to maintain the momentum of Scotty’s incredible rise when they look to improve upon their five wins from 2019. Jack Hunt is one notable exit from their 2019 team but the T’s appear relatively unchanged. They’re hosting the highlight of the first few rounds with a Friday night Round 2 clash against OM’s.
After claiming the Premier B flag in their last game, the Fields return to William Buck Premier for the first time since 2012. If that wasn’t cause for celebration enough, they’ll be kickstarting it all with a centenary match against OM’s as both sides commemorate their 101st birthdays. Former Port forward Brett Eddy will add serious talent and experience to their best 22, while Julian Debosz returns after leaving for Tasmania last year.
Fittingly, Old Scotch return to William Buck Premier in the same year they celebrate 100 years as a club. After launching their season (and Centenary Book) last week, the Cardinals will be looking to solidify their spot in Premier under the leadership of Mark Gnatt and Gene Van Den Broek. They’ll be without star onballer Nick Jamieson but will hopefully get games out of VFL-listed players such as Tom Downie and Charlie Cormack.
Final 4: Uni Blues, Old Xavs, SKOB, OM’s
Premiers: University Blues
Woodrow Medal: Tom Jok (St Kevin’s OB)