By Jason Barbin
The Southern Football Netball League is gearing up for a massive year in 2018 and Division 2 looks to be particularly enticing with several clubs boasting strong chances of winning it all this year.
Whether it be Murrumbeena with it’s massive list of quality inclusions, relegated Division 1 club Clayton looking to get back into the top flight or an upstart Mount Waverly side that will be keen to build on some excellent performances in 2017, this year is sure to have its surprises.
2017 finish: 4th
The Bears will be looking to move on from a disappointing finish to the 2017 season, which saw them squander the double chance by bombing out of the finals in straight sets.
While the club has endured several depth players departing the club, and with the biggest loss coming from Sean Gunning’s transfer to Division 1 club Port Melbourne Colts, Caulfield has enjoyed a strong off-season.
Caulfield has brought in gun defender Noah Answerth and key forward Cam Roughead to strength those two halves of the ground.
Answerth, a former junior, comes from the VAFA, but may only see a few games for the Bears this season as he spends time at TAC Cup club Oakleigh Chargers as a top age player.
Roughead, younger brother of Hawthorn star Jarryd, comes from division one side East Malvern and gives Caulfield a legitimate forward option to place alongside Chris Dove.
With Sein Clearihan mentoring the side and with a strong list, Caulfield should once again be contending for a top three spot.
Ladder prediction: 2-4
2017 finish: 10th in Division 1
Playing in Division 2 for the first time since winning the flag in 2010, Clayton will be once again a side to watch out for as it attempts to move back into the top flight.
Coach Jayden Gilmour, one of the best defenders in the entire League, not just Division 2, will lead from the front again with the club boasting several talented ins from the off season.
Josh Llerana and Peter Bell (not the former North Melbourne/Fremantle star) are the big inclusions for the Magpies in 2018.
Llerana comes from West Gippsland league club Cora Lynn, where he is a premiership player, while Bell comes from VAFA club Prahran Assumption.
The club is also welcoming back several returning players to the club including Jack Coutts, who played with Cranbourne in the South East league, and Jack Gavin who returns from Cheltenham.
Division 1 relegated clubs tend to be relatively competitive when re-joining Division 2 and Clayton should be no different and will join the fight for a finals spot.
Ladder prediction: 3-5
2017 finish: Premiers in Division 3
The Eagles come back to Division 2 after two seasons in Division 3 and will attempt to entrench themselves here for the long run.
If their offseason is anything to go by they may have done that will several big-name inclusions to the club, including Nick Battle, Ryan Hendy, Josh Henry and Caleb Millman.
Battle, brother of St Kilda’s Josh, joins the club after playing with the Dandenong Stingrays with Battle also playing for VFL side Casey.
Hendy was a premiership player with South East side Doveton Doves and joins the club to play alongside mate Nathan Wilson, a premiership player with the Eagles.
Henry will bolster the midfield stocks for the Eagles and joins from EFL club Ferntree Gully, while Millman is another former Dandenong Stingrays star who joins from Tarwin in the Alberton FL.
Ladder prediction: 5-8
2017 finish: 7th
East Brighton was unable to convert a strong start to 2017 into a finals appearance and will look to right that wrong in 2018.
It may prove to be a difficult task for the Vampires however, as they look to run out a youth laden side this year.
Peter Larsen’s side will look to find their feet early in the season, but with experienced players in Barry Hope, Andrew Jansen, Mitch Backman and Mark Jamieson still running around, the learning curves could be few or far between.
Still, a young list could revitalise the club’s veteran players and it wouldn’t be surprising to see East Brighton contending for a finals spot, but the premiership window may be closed for now.
Ladder prediction: 5-9
2017 finish: 9th
Don’t let Hampton’s final place on the 2017 ladder fool you into thinking the Hammers aren’t going to be contending for finals this year.
The Hammers were one of several clubs in a logjam for fifth spot for the better part of the second half of the season and with a few handy inclusions, this year could be the year for the toolbox faithful.
While the club has lost a chuck of experience in the form of Chris Grove and James Feather, who have crossed to Ashwood, the Hammers have more than made up for it.
Joining the club is ruckman Matt Thorneycroft who makes the switch from division one side Cheltenham to play with last year’s recruit Pat Bolger, another ex-Rosella.
While Thorneycroft played a key role in the Rosella’s reserves premiership last year, he has plenty of senior experience to his name and will be a key player for Hampton this season.
The club has also brought in plenty of depth players, which should create plenty of competition for spots, a problem every coach, including Craig McIndoe I’m sure, dreams of.
Ladder prediction: 5-9
2017 finish: 8th
Division 2’s perennial Jekyll and Hyde club once again proved they have what it takes to mount a run for the finals, but were unsuccessful in doing so.
The Dogs have been able to maintain the bulk of its list for 2018, a key factor finally making a finals run, while also bringing in plenty of experience to bolster the stocks.
Chris Langdon is a big get for the Kennel, after playing 14 games for Division 1 grand finalist Mordialloc last year, he will lead the way through the midfield and add plenty of class.
Ed Turner, coming in from Hampton Rovers, is another who adds polish to the club and is a big game player and has been named best on ground in two grand final appearances.
Will this year finally be the year the Dogs return to September action, or will Sam Hecker’s squad once again fail to live up to its capabilities?
Ladder prediction: 4-8
2017 finish: 3rd
The Burra were so close for the second time in three years in Division 2 to making a grand final, but like they were in 2015, Murrumbeena proved to be their downfall, defeating them in the preliminary final.
This year Keysborough has been active in recruiting a number of players to the club in order to make that much desired grand final appearance.
One of the biggest inclusions is key forward Matt Carnelley, a player capable of kicking 100 goals, a feat he achieved while playing for EFL club Forest Hill.
Also joining the club are Mt Eliza duo James Anwyl, a former VFL defender with Frankston, and Aaron McIlroy who should provide a bit of X factor.
While Jacob Bakes looms as the club’s biggest loss, departing for Springvale Districts, the Burra has plenty of experience to rely upon.
No doubt the Burra will be back up the pointy end of the ladder this season and are a legitimate premiership contender.
Ladder prediction: 1-3
2017 finish: 6th
The Mountain Lions were the big surprise packet in 2017, coming up from Division 3 and causing quite a stir in finishing just outside the top five.
While Bennett Medallist Jackson Smith, moving to Werribee Centrals, Andy Mathers, transferring to Karingal, and James Gough, moving to EFL club Fairpark Lions, are big losses, the club has plenty of experience still on the list.
The inclusion of Ben McLeod from Sebastopol in the Ballarat league is a handy inclusion for the Mount with Stuart Pike also coming in from Heidelberg West.
Michael Keem, one of the toughest nuts in the SFNL, will take the reigns at Mayfield Reserve and will have his charges geared up for a finals run.
Ladder prediction: 5-9
2017 finish: Runners-up
Runners-up of two of the last three grand finals, this year might finally be the year Murrumbeena takes the big prize, enjoying arguably one of the best offseason recruitment jobs the SFL has seen in recent years.
Coming in to the club is a host of players who are more than capable of playing Division 1 football and should have the Beena as the team to beat.
At the top of the list are former St Pauls premiership players Jay Bruno, Luke James, Owen Lewis and Harley Ambrose who cross to join former Dog star Liam Wilson and coach Paul Howroyd.
James is a goal kicking machine who has topped 90 goals in a season five times and will be sure to have the crowd gasping in anticipation.
Bruno, Ambrose and Lewis add more class to an already dangerous midfield which includes star Jake Semmel and Wilson.
While the club has lost some experience in the form of Josh Wright and Lachlan Batt, the Beena Arena will be a fortress in 2018.
Ladder prediction: 1-3
2017 finish: 5th
The Bombers have endured a tough offseason in the wake of a rough finish to the 2017 season, with former captain Aaron Pacey taking up a coaching position with Tyabb in the Mornington Peninsula league.
Pacey has dragged five players with him along the way including former senior players Jordan Thomas and Matt Haverfield, while goal sneak Kyle Gascoigne has departed for VAFA club South Mornington.
It isn’t all doom and gloom for Skye however, with the club bringing in four players to the club in Aaron Dawson, Jack Minton, Zach Harland and Dylan O’Meara.
While those four will add to the depth of the club, the Bombers will look to continue building upon its juniors and look to mount another run at the finals.
Ladder prediction: 5-9