Men’s Premier Division Preview
There is much anticipation about the 2019 Men’s Premier Division (previously known as Division One) season with an influx of talented players into the league to complement the existing quality.
2018 saw Kiama claim a long overdue and well-deserved senior premiership with a hard-fought victory over the Lions but both clubs have lost a few key players between them meaning the other clubs will be nipping at their heels.
In recent years the ‘Big 3’ of Lions, Bulldogs and Kiama were really the only clubs given a chance to win the title, but this year could well see a changing of the guard as the ‘chasers’ appear, on paper at least, to be right in the mix.
What it does create is a mouth-watering prospect for the quality of the leagues Rep Team to play Hunter Central Coast in May!
Opening Round blockbusters this weekend with reigning Premiers Kiama hosting Figtree, the Wollongong derby between the Lions and Bulldogs at Keira as well as a Tiger battle between Northern Districts and Bomaderry in the Shoalhaven set the scene for the season ahead!
What a year it is shaping up to be on the South Coast!
Coming off a great Division 2 Premiership (along with the Division 3 flag), the Bomaderry Tigers have been promoted back into the top division this season and they will no doubt be looking to make up for their relegation in last season’s Tier competition.
Bomo will need key forward Jordan Matthews to be kicking plenty of majors and midfielder Jack Boxsell to continue his 2018 form if the Tigers are to make an impact on the league.
There is no doubt that the Tigers will look to the recent rise of the Kangaroos on the back of success in the lower division and hope to emulate their progress since a return to the top grade.
While a repeat of last years unprecedented success (where the club won all three Premierships they had teams in) in unlikely, the Tigers will look to surprise some of the more fancied teams and a few upsets along the way wont surprise.
2018 Tom Smith Medalist, Jack Boxsell only played 2 games in last season’s Tier 1 competition due to injury. It was all too late though for the Tigers who just missed out on playing Division 1 but his return for the Tigers for the second half of the season certainly made them unstoppable in Division 2 with Jack being among his team’s best 8 out of 11 times.
Further up the field key forward Jordan Matthews is the favourite to claim the leading goal kicker award and will likely compete with the Lions Sam Wilson for the title of best forward in the league (as well as the Full Forward position in the AFL South Coast Rep Team). If the football gets in Matthews area enough, he is near on unstoppable.
Ins: Mitchell Wurr, Timothy Green
2018 Coach of the Year Will Ryan has done a fantastic job with recruitment over the off-season bringing in former NEAFL player Callum McFadden and ex Camden Premier Division forward Kieran Churchill among a host of other quality inclusions. These inclusions compliment their side nicely which already boasts 2018 Tunbridge Medal runner up Nick Stacey.
The Roo’s will be without a home ground for 2019 as Figtree Oval has new drainage installed but that won’t worry the rising Roo’s, season 2019 is sure to be one where they announce themselves as a force in the league.
We will get a great indication in the opening round as to where they sit when they take on 2018 Premiers Kiama away in a blockbuster. An upset would not come as a complete surprise hich would put the rest of the competition on notice.
In Figtree’s case, it’s a group of key players… the midfield! Arguably the best midfield on the South Coast (which wouldn’t look out of place as the starting midfield in the South Coast rep team later this year!) – Callum McFadden, Nick Stacey and skipper, Jacob Hennessy will be a tough midfield to stop every Saturday and are the key if the Ross wish to look for glory in season 2019.
Former junior Hamish MacDonald returns to the club after a year off but in 2017 played eight games with the Sydney Swans NEAFL team to go with his eight Premier Division games for North Shore in AFL Sydney. Classy!
Ins: Callum McFadden, Hamish McDonald, Kieran Churchill, Tobias Lane
Outs: Ray Cairduff
The Power will be looking to replicate their wonderful 2018 season, but can newly appointed coach, Ben Rawson lead the Power to back to back flags in 2019? Losing two parts of their spine will put pressure on the rest of the team with the retirements of Troy Cole and Alex Perger.
Despite these key losses, Kiama have shown their strong depth in recent years as evidenced by being Grand Finalists in 2017 and 2018 in Reserve Grade (with both played against First Grade teams and one which they won). Their junior pathway is the strongest in the league which means that there are plenty of youngsters waiting in the wings for their crack at the big time.
Kiama will look to their quality, experienced midfield group to support their young talent to get them over the line in the tight ones.
In a real positive, the Power will welcome the return of 2017 Tunbridge Medalist Ben Williams who missed the back end of last season due to injury. After missing last year’s flag, Ben will be hellbent on leading his side back to the top of the mountain.
Alex Perger’s replacement – Alex was a rock in the backline for the Power in 2017 and 2018 (and many years before that) so whoever is tasked with stopping the oppositions key forwards in 2019 has massive shoes to fill but if the Power get this right look out they will be tough to stop.
Nick Baggio goes about his business with little fuss but is clearly one of the best players in the league and his combination with fellow midfielders in Jack Mahony and Ben Williams will go a long way to seeing back to back flags heading south of Wollongong.
Ins: Ben Maddern
Outs: Troy Cole, Stu Brierty, Alex Perger, Rod Richards (coach)
Northern Districts Tigers
There is much optimism within the Tigers ranks leading into this season following a very strong offseason recruitment drive which has added much need experience to this young squad.
Led by master coach Leigh Forsyth, Norths will look to improve on their 2018 season, where they scraped through the Tiered competition by 1.33% over Bomaderry but couldn’t quite notch a win once Division 1 started, despite some solid performances.
They have a young core group of players that are building nicely and have an attractive game plan and if they can keep this group together they will certainly surprise a few this season but be a force of the league in coming seasons.
A team not to be underestimated this season and part of the potential changing of the guard!
If Luke Essenstam plays, the key backman will shut down any forward he lines up on. Essenstam is coming off an AFL Sydney Premier Division Premiership – fair pedigree, which capped off a great season for him. Hopefully the Tigers can get him onto the park!
The Tigers field a number of underrated quality players in Tom Strong and the Green brothers (Tom and Harrison) while forward Cody Haub is very handy in the forward 50 arc. This along with a number of local juniors who are developing nicely put them near their premiership window in the coming years.
Ins: Luke Essenstam, Jake Hardy, Jack Ford, Nicholas Hills, Sean Solar, Mick Montague
Outs: Lachlan Dent
Shellharbour City Suns
The Suns will look to bounce back after a disappointing season missing out on finals in 2018 after making their first appearance the year prior.
The Suns have lost a few first-grade players in the off season with forward Damien Pedder a huge loss as well as defender Michael Talbott moving on to new clubs, but the biggest loss will be Carter Lovell who is going on exchange throughout the year.
The Suns have not managed to bring in many new players at this stage so will rely heavily on their talented juniors but a big in for the Suns, will be Dave Linsen who returns after a year up north. Dave will provide the toughness the Suns need in the midfield if they are to knock off the top 4 from last year and re-enter finals on the South Coast.
A tough year looks to await Shellharbour but they certainly won’t go down without a fight and have the bonus of getting senior games of football into their talented juniors coming through.
Key Player: The Suns shining light, Jarod Falconer will have a full season with Shellharbour after a couple of stints with North Shore and Camden in Sydney. Falconer adds speed and great foot skills to the Suns midfield and half back and will certainly be up there with the best for Shellharbour on a regular basis.
As mentioned above, Dave Linsen is a quality midfielder who has been amongst the best players in Sydney in previous years but will have to carry much of the load.
Ins: Dave Linsen, Isaiah Ryder
Outs: Damien Pedder, Michael Talbott, Carter Lovell
An influx of players for the Bulldogs (almost 30 new players in and only 2 out) sets them up as early Premiership favourites for 2019 and a chance to return to recent times where they were the dominant club in the league.
With a solid group of young players, the Bulldogs will look to make their first senior Grand Final appearance in 2 years. The Bulldogs have incredible depth this year, highlighted by the fact that they will be the first South Coast team to field a 3rd grade side!
The experience and leadership of Matthew Westaway and leading goal kicker Keegan Jenkins can lead the young Dogs all the way.
Coach Lee Murray continues to inspire this young group year in, year out and 2019 will be no different. The challenge will be selecting only a best 22 each week!
As mentioned Matthew Westaway will need to lead the young Bulldogs side and show the young pups how it’s done, in the best 9 times out of 14 there’s no doubt he’ll be leading the way.
Keegan Jenkins has led the goal scoring for the Bulldogs the past couple of seasons and with the increased depth could well kick 50+ goals and be a real handful for opposition defenders.
A host of incoming Riverina born and bred players like GIANTS Academy player Sam McGowan might fly under the radar early but will be sure to get attention as the season goes on.
Ins: Sam McGowan, Angus Morschel, Jake Norman, Mackenzie Harmer, Lewis Gooden, Angus Cumming, Jacob Chant, Nathan Harapin, Xavier Mamo
Outs: Christian Foster
Coming off a tough Grand Final defeat last season, the Lions will be back with a vengeance this season as they look to claim their 3rd Premiership in four years.
Adding key forward and former Premiership winner Sam Wilson and defender Kuiam Anu certainly strengthens their squad, while Rising Star Joel Preston will have a full season of seniors after playing 4 games in 2018.
The loss of 2018 Tunbridge Medalist Lachlan Maples will sting a little after an outstanding season last year but the Lions have plenty of talent around the ground to cover the loss.
Year in, year out the Lions deliver when it counts and under Ray Burgess the side will be confident of being there when it counts in September.
Owen Christie surprisingly didn’t poll at all in last year’s Tunbridge Medal yet came runner up in the Lions Best and Fairest. That should change this year and he is a genuine contender for the ultimate league and club individual honour this season.
The return of key forward Sam Wilson from Sydney this season is a real coup for the club. If the Lions midfielders get on top, Wilson will be very hard to hold out and will fight out favouritism to claim the Premier Division leading goal kicker award with Bomaderry’s Jordan Matthews.
Ins: Sam Wilson, Kuiam Anu, Liam Ryan, Joel Preston
Outs: Lachlan Maples, Mitch Sieger
South Coast Seagull’s Predictions
1st: Wollongong Bulldogs
2nd: Figtree Kangaroos
3rd: Kiama Power
4th: Wollongong Lions
5th: Northern Districts Tigers
6th: Shellharbour City Suns
7th: Bomaderry Tigers
Tunbridge Medal Winner:
Plenty of candidates throughout including the Lions Owen Christie and Kuiam Anu, the Bulldogs Matthew Westaway and the Roo’s captain Jacob Hennessy. The Bulldogs have plenty of unknown quality however will likely take votes from one another.
Similarly, Kiama have numerous players who will poll well but won’t help each other but Nick Baggio will likely lead their charge.
Should the Suns jag a few wins across the season there is no doubt that Jarod Falconer certainly comes into play, which is a similar scenario for the likes of Tom Green at Northern Districts while Jack Boxsell is a serial vote getter.
In all of that, it is hard to look past the ex NEAFL midfielder Callum McFadden from the Kangaroos. McFadden should rack up a lot of touches that will culminate in plenty of votes and would start the season as the short priced favourite.