By David Nagel
So here we go…we all start from square one!
The West Gippsland Football Netball Competition (WGFNC) kicks off this weekend with 12 teams all looking to match their lofty pre-season ambitions by delivering with real purpose in round one.
They all start from scratch…zero on the board…but the reality is, different clubs will all be aiming to achieve a wide-range of goals this year.
Phillip Island, the best team in the competition since 2018, will be looking to secure its third-consecutive grand final win, while Garfield, hit hard by a mass exodus of players, will look to show that youth, spirit, a never-say-die approach – and a healthy dose of pride – can make it competitive this year.
Teams like Inverloch-Kongwak, Tooradin-Dalmore, Nar Nar Goon and Cora Lynn – they won’t be booking holidays until after September 10 – while Bunyip and Warragul Industrials will be looking to break into the top bracket after impressive recruiting campaigns.
And certainly don’t write off the bottom four from last season, with Kilcunda-Bass and Korumburra-Bena keen to improve under new coaches, while the positivity emanating from Kooweerup and Dalyston suggests they’re also expecting to take some giant strides in 2022!
Phew…we’re almost out of breath just hypothesising about the possibilities this year!
Well, those dreams can now become reality because that long-awaited round one…well it’s finally arrived.
There are some cracking contests scheduled for this weekend with top billing going to the big Sunday clash between Cora Lynn and Phillip Island at the Cobradome.
It seems so long ago now, but the Cobras and Bulldogs played in the most recent WGFNC grand final in 2019 – an epic contest at Garfield that saw the Bulldogs prevail by four points.
They’ve only met once since, in the corresponding Sunday clash last year, with the Bulldogs thumping the Cobras by 70 points.
The Bulldogs played almost perfect football that day, taking an impressive first step to the minor premiership.
Coach Beau Vernon was initially cautious heading into this year’s pre-season, but is delighted with how the preparation has unfolded.
“I was unsure how it was going to go, being the third pre-season with only 11 games being played, I thought it would be a challenge, but we’ve had probably the best pre-season we’ve ever had,” Vernon explained.
“Enjoyment and feel wise, it’s been awesome.”
The Bulldogs will largely rely on their proven banquet of stars, but the return of bustling forward Jack Taylor and the inclusion of Tooradin utility Cam Brown will provide some different ingredients to the recipe.
Shaun Sparks takes over the reins from David Main at the Cobras with Corey Machaya probably the big-name signing.
But keep an eye on Spark’s former Cranbourne teammate Dillan Bass, an under-rated star across half back who is going to have a massive impact in his first year in West Gippsland footy.
“Our pre-season has been good, I couldn’t have asked for more,” Sparks said heading into his first game as senior coach.
The game between Nar Nar Goon and Bunyip also has the potential to be a cracker, with Spencer Street sure to be pumping at 2.20pm on Saturday.
The Goon was impressive last year, finishing fourth, and was the only team to roll Phillip Island…and that was on the Bulldogs’ home deck!
The Goon have suffered a couple of big blows, with Team of the Year half back Ryan Bromley making the move to Berwick, while forward Trent Noy is putting family first and full-back Daniel Battaglin has retired.
But the Goon has counterbalanced that by signing two of Pakenham’s big guns.
When fully focussed, Dermott Yawney has the potential to be an absolute star while JJ Peni will add some real grunt through the midfield.
Let’s be open and honest here, Bunyip was the big disappointment of 2021.
The Bulldogs brought in a plethora of talent and experience but generally failed to fire.
The Doggies have once again been one of the trendsetters of the off-season…and will be keen to improve on last year.
“We’re clearly playing a better brand of footy in the pre-season, but everyone else is too, so let’ s just see where it takes us,” said coach Tim McGibney.
“We’ve brought in what we’ve needed and we’re excited about the year ahead.”
Expect a quicker looking Bunyip this year, with Riley Rundell, Blake and Dylan Cann, Will Papley and former Garfield star Daniel Helmore set to fire up the engines!
The bottom-two from last year, Kooweerup and Dalyston, will both fully be expecting victory when the Demons and Magpies kick things off at Denhams Road.
This is a really important game for both teams, with the winner to take some real confidence away while the loser will start the season asking…. Is this more of the same again?
The Demons welcome back a couple of stars, in 2019 Team of the Year members Jason Wells and Nathan Muratore, while a stack of youngsters from last year will likely be improvers.
Wells gives them a target up front, and his combination with Nathan Voss is sure to be exciting.
Dalyston coach Peter Dunlop is also excited heading in to the new season.
“We’re taking a glass half-full approach to last year, because we had our captain play two games, our gun on-baller was hobbling around injured, so we’re treating those players as recruits,” Dunlop said.
“We’ve brought some senior-quality players into the club and we just want to turn up with the belief that if we play our best footy, we’re an opportunity to win.
“It’s definitely exciting, but we won’t really know until the season gets under way.”
Tooradin-Dalmore should have serious premiership aspirations this season and will look to kick off their season in grand style with an away trip to Kilcunda-Bass.
The Gulls were terrific last year, and were one of the in-form teams in the competition when play was halted in round 11.
But a huge last-round win over Cora Lynn never really amounted to much due to Covid.
The Gulls have lost some talent, with key-forward Andrew Dean heading to Rye, Cam Brown to the Island, and Nick Schumann to Caulfield, but have more than made amends the other way.
Former Collingwood star Brent Macaffer returns to the WGFNC, after coaching Kilcunda-Bass in 2017, while Matt Livermore returns and Catani pair Lauchlan Gregson and Trent Adams are also sure to have an impact this year.
The Panthers also look a better unit with Dale Gawley a huge inclusion in the ruck while former Narre Warren-gun Nathan Foote is a player with serious talent who will be one to watch this season.
This one will be a lot closer than people might think!
Warragul Industrials will be out to make it a day to remember for its champion captain Shane Brewster when the new-look Dusties welcome Garfield to Western Park.
Brewster will play his 350th game…a huge achievement in anyone’s language.
And a day to remember could quickly develop into a season to look back on fondly, with the Dusties adding strongly to an already improving list.
The Beck boys, Bailey and Todd, make the switch across from Drouin, while classy left-footer Luke ‘Tex’ Walker has been a proven star of the region for the best part of 15 years.
The Beck’s and ‘Tex’ are just three of a number of new players that coach Harmit Singh has added to his list. Luke Smith from Hastings is another to keep an eye on while the natural improvement of Kyle Beveridge will also improve the Dusties.
After losing 18 senior players, new Garfield coach Paul Carbis understands that 2022 will provide its challenges, but also a plethora of opportunity.
“We’ve lost a lot of senior players, so that’s a big hole to fill, but in saying that, as a new coach, you get a new dynamic coming through,” Carbis said.
“It’s a really competitive league and realistically we won’t be in the top echelon, so for us it’s about developing a game plan and getting the guys to trust it as the year goes on.
“We just want to be as competitive as we can be against all sides.
“When you lose that many senior players, it gives opportunity to other blokes who only played one or two games last year and thought they might have been a bit stiff.
“Those blokes have been training the house down and improving over the last 12 weeks.
“I don’t think we’re going to be the easy beats that everyone thinks we will be.
“We’re excited to kick off round one and see how we go.”
Nick Lang is a nice pick up for the Stars while watch for Jahmain Harrison and Jett Pickering to have an influence as the year rolls on.
And new Korumburra-Bena coach Leigh Cole will be out to make an impression when the Giants welcome Inverloch/Kongwak on Saturday.
The Giants only won two games last year, but were super-competitive in some of those losses, but not for the full four-quarters.
The Giants had injury concerns and at some stages had six or seven juniors rolling out for senior footy.
That is sure to hold them in good stead for this year, and the inclusion of some serious talent has the Giants on the road to improvement.
But Cole faces a tough first-up assignment with the Sea Eagles one of the teams most likely to challenge Phillip Island this year.
Ben Soumilas knows how to win flags and with players like Ethan and Gareth Park, and Marcus Toussaint, added to his squad, he will be looking to challenge again.
The Sea Eagles will really miss energetic half-forward Jack Hutchinson, who has made the switch to Wonthaggi, while Ryan Sparkes has also made the same move.