By Will Hunter
ROUND 1 PREVIEW
Port Melbourne Colts V St Kilda City (JL Murphy Reserve)
The two old SESFL rivals will lock horns under Friday night lights to usher in the 2018 season at JL Murphy Reserve.
It is a match of much significance, with the two clubs playing for the Bird Cup in honour of former Colts player Marcel Bouchard, who passed away from brain cancer before the start of the 2017 season.
Fittingly, this tribute takes place on the SFNL’s annual Remembrance Round.
Both teams fought out an absolutely belter in this corresponding fixture last year, with the Colts holding off a fast-finishing City by under two kicks to claim the Bird Cup and the four points in an absorbing and emotion-charged contest.
Unfortunately, 2017 ultimate proved to be a lean year for both clubs, and as they look to make amends in 2018, a first-up win is vitally important.
The bigger bodies of returning star Aaron Purvis and fellow recruit Mark Griffiths through the midfield will be vital, especially on the narrow confines of the infinitesimal Murphy Reserve where space is at a premium.
However, the Colts have also added class to its midfield in the form of Cal Cathcart and former Bomber Andy Lovett, with Cartcart especially a proven match winner, booting five goals in a best afield performance in his last outing against the Saints in last year’s Pride Cup.
This should be a terrific battle to start the season, but it’s difficult to tip against Port at home.
Port Colts by 13 points.
Chelsea Heights V Cheltenham (Beazley Reserve)
The Heighters will unfurl their 2017 Division 2 premiership flag before their home fans on Saturday, with a large crowd expected at Beazley Reserve.
Clearly the standout team in Div 2 last season, it will be interesting to see how they make the transition back to the top grade, especially given they have kept the majority of their side together. Some of their star players may be entering the twilight of their glittering careers, including prolific goalkicker Phil Smith, but there is still more than enough young talent to ensure the side will be competitive in the top grade.
Meanwhile Cheltenham fell just short of their expected finals berth last season, but with a couple of very handy additions in Billy Robertson and Drew Kelly, they will only be stronger in 2018 and hungrier than ever to bridge that gap and return to the top five.
This will also be an interesting contest, but the Rosellas should have too much class for the Heighters, with ruckman Sean McLaren to play a massive part in the result.
Cheltenham by 24 points.
Bentleigh V St Pauls (Bentleigh Reserve)
The Battle of Bentleigh is always a highly anticipated contest, and given the success of both of these teams last season, there will be added interest in this one.
Bentleigh took the points in their Round 1 clash last year at the same venue, before injury and form contributed to a five-match losing streak. However, they remarkably rallied from 1-5 to reach a Preliminary Final, and in the process ended St Pauls’ season in the Semi Final.
The Doggies, meanwhile, were the surprise packet of 2017, finishing third on the ladder with new coach, a talented young list and an exciting brand of football.
Both sides are tipped to be up there again this season, and this contest at Arthur Street looms as a cracker.
The Demons have added some quality players to its list for 2018 and are one of the clubs firmly in the premiership window. The Doggies, meanwhile, should see some significant improvement from its crop of young pups as it looks to consolidate an impressive 2017 campaign.
This could go either way, but the home ground advantage should see the Demons home.
Bentleigh by 10 points.
East Malvern V Oakleigh District (Dunlop Reserve)
East Malvern and Oakleigh District are two sides that promised more than they delivered last year, and both would be looking to make amends in 2018.
The Panthers’ bevy of superstar recruits shone in 2017, but ultimately the club failed to live up to expectations, limping out of the finals in the first week. The Districts, meanwhile, took a slide down the ladder following a Div 2 flag and Div 1 Prelim Final in consecutive years.
This season, both sides will find themselves in the bracket of clubs fighting for a finals berth. And six doesn’t go into five, making this clash and important one for both sides.
Given the hot-and-cold nature of East Malvern in recent years, it’s impossible to predict the outcome of this one with any certainty. At its best, it can match it with the top sides, but it can go from Lindt chocolates to boiled lollies in the space of a week. If the Panthers bring its a-game, it will win this game comfortable.
East Malvern by 32 points.
Dingley V Mordialloc (Souter Oval)
The two biggest clubs in the SFNL again go head to head in the opening round in a replay of last year’s Division 1 Grand Final.
And both sides are widely tipped to feature prominently in September again this season, and this may very well be a Grand Final preview, as well as a replay.
While the Dingoes had too much class on that last Sunday in September, winning by seven goals on a blustery day, traditionally not much has separated these powerhouse sides.
Saturday will likely be no different.
The biggest battle looms in the centre of the ground with both sides possessing two of the more potent midfield groups in the League. Each club has a plethora of options that can rotate through the centre with great effect and contribute both inside and outside the contest. Dingoes Jackson Peet, Lucas Walsmley and Chris Horton-Milne and Bloods Todd Bastion, Danny Nicholls and Aaron Kneebone are all genuine stars should all have an impact on the match.
But a key will be in the ruck and the ability of either side to provide the onballers with first use. Former WAFL ruckman Simon Hallsworth should play his first game in Dingley colours, and it will be intriguing to see how he goes against Mordi star Tom McMahon.
There will be little in it come the final siren, but the reigning premiers will get their campaign for a record-breaking fourth consecutive flag off to a bright start with a thrilling victory.
Dingley by one point.