A new season is always eagerly anticipated, but 2018 comes with the added intrigue of a restructured Division 3 competition.
Before analysing that new look, congratulations once again to Doveton on its superb performance in the 2017 Grand Final. The Eagles earned promotion to Division 2 with a final-term comeback win over a valiant Endeavour Hills’ side.
The other clubs that made up last season’s top six remain in Division 3, with two relegated sides and a club new to our League joining them.
One of the relegated clubs, Heatherton, has no reason to feel aggrieved, having won just a solitary senior game last season. However, Springvale Districts is decidedly unlucky to be demoted, winning six senior games in 2017 and going close in several others.
The SFNL welcomes Hampton Park to its ranks, with the Redbacks crossing from the South East Football Netball League (SEFNL).
Here’s an overview of the eight Div 3 combatants, including key recruits, major departures, and forecast ladder positions.
Finished 4th after 2017 finals
Coach: Mick Rossborough (ongoing)
Ashwood set the early pace in this division last year, and finished second in the home and away season, before running out of steam in the finals.
Injuries played their part, along with an ageing list and a lack of pace.
Coach Mick Rossborough is confident he has recruited strongly, putting the Magpies in the finals picture again. However, he makes no secret of the magnitude of the task required to win the flag.
“Springvale (Districts) and Hampton Park are closer to divvy 1 clubs than divvy 3,” Rossborough indicates emphatically.
But let’s look at what the experienced coach has done to give his side the best chance to compete with these perceived powerhouses.
Reliable Magpies’ big-man Dale Carroll is well established at the club and is joined by brothers Patrick and Ryan. Both have crossed from division 1 side Oakleigh District.
Patrick is willing to take on opponents and can pull in a screamer as he demonstrated in an SFNL Interleague appearance.
“Paddy’s a champ. He’ll play utility for me,” Rossborough says.
As for Ryan, expect him to win the footy on the inside and distribute it to teammates.
A handy trio has joined Ashwood from Hampton Hammers, with James Feather a strong key defender, Chris Grove a pacy wingman, and David Masson a skilful halfback flanker.
There were no offseason losses that are likely to hurt the Magpies, although the services of departing veteran Michael Langford deserve mention.
Expect Ashwood to be a strong contender for fourth place and a chance for another taste of finals action.
Predicted finish: 4th
Finished 5th after 2017 finals
Coach: Lachie Batt (new playing coach)
The Jets mounted a charge to the 2017 finals under the coaching of Jay Williams.
With Williams and his family relocating, another young coach has taken over.
Lachie Batt has only just hit the age of 30 but brings significant experience to the role.
Last season he was a playing assistant coach at Murrumbeena, having previously coached Hampton Hammers Under 19s as well as being an assistant coach for the seniors.
The club environment at Black Rock impresses Batt.
“They’re looking to improve and they’ve got a young, enthusiastic committee on board,” he says.
Batt is confident he can combine his responsibility as senior coach with his onfield job as a player.
Club president and premiership coach, John Burke will help out from the bench, as will assistant coaches Paddy Irons and Jeremy Starke.
A couple of handy players have arrived from NSW. One is Jesse Lawrence who quickly impressed Batt and has been appointed joint vice captain.
“He seems to have just natural leadership ability. He probably would have the highest training attendance out of anyone. And he’s fit as well.”
Lawrence will spend lots of time in the midfield.
The other addition from NSW is Kenny Simpson, a skilful midfielder.
Tom Dewar is no stranger to the club, but will significantly boost the Jets’ forward firepower as he returns from injury.
A couple of notable departures in the offseason are big American Michael ‘Buddy’ Spohn and small livewire forward Brenton Rafferty.
Expect the Jets to be competitive in 2018.
First up is a tough challenge on Black Rock’s stomping ground against Ashwood, a possible rival for the last finals spot.
Predicted finish: 6th
Finished runner up in 2017
Coach: Rob Dipper (ongoing)
Endeavour Hills was desperately close to a premiership in 2017, and coach Rob Dipper has his side in a position to be a genuine contender again this year.
There have been no major departures and an abundance of accomplished arrivals.
A group of mates transferred from Narre Warren and Dipper outlines what they will offer.
Sam McLean is a key position player expected to play at centre half back.
Nathan Reid is a “classy halfback, wingman”.
Andrew Vella is a “dominant midfielder”, and Daniel Cann provides versatility, being able to shift between midfield and half forward.
Alex Cann is a ruckman, as is Ben Holland.
Another newbie is Tom Gillies who transferred from Berwick and should feature at centre half forward or full forward.
The club has an experienced and extensive leadership group led by captain Nate Strom and joint vice captains Byron Hoe and Jayson Bruce.
Dipper has worked his squad hard over the preseason.
“We know we’ve got to go to another level. So we’ve trained a bit harder and (done) a bit more fitness and strengthening over the off season,” he indicates.
Expect the Falcons to be a significantly improved side and for their already imposing fitness to go up a notch.
Whether or not this will be enough to knock off the fancied div 3 new boys, Hampton Park and Springvale Districts will be fascinating to observe.
You’d be mad to write Endeavour Hills off, though.
Predicted finish: runner up
Finished 3rd after 2017 finals
Coach: Ash Allen (new)
Hallam topped the ladder last season, before a disappointing straight-sets finals exit.
A player exodus has many outside the club forecasting a dire season for the team.
New Hawks’ coach Ash Allen assumed the role after the recent departure of Scott Slater.
He hasn’t coached previously and has taken on a largely inexperienced squad, but sees a bright future for Hallam.
Overall the club is in a healthy position with its netball and girls’ footy sides attracting strong numbers.
Underdog status sits well with Allen. He acknowledges his team will be inconsistent at this stage of its development, however, he expects the Hawks to make life tough for some of the division’s more fancied sides.
“We’ve got a very young group, but I still think we’re capable of winning quite a few games,” he says.
His team lacks size, but has pace.
There is still some experience around, such as captain Jonathan Daly and the big-bodied Brandon Nolan.
There have been some exciting arrivals at the Hawks’ nest. A highlight is Billy Athanasopoulos from Narre Warren.
“He’ll be a key part in our forward line. He’ll be a centre half forward I’d say. He’ll be a massive asset,” says Allen.
David Mullins is a recent signing, venturing from Bunyip in West Gippsland.
“He’s a very good goal-sneak. He’ll definitely kick some goals this year,” the coach enthuses.
A number who have previously played Under 19s footy at Hallam will play seniors this season.
It will be a sharp learning curve for a rookie coach and young team, but expect the Hawks to provide some entertaining footy during the year.
Predicted finish: 8th
Finished last in SEFNL in 2017
Coach: Jason Chapple (second stint at the club)
After two winless seasons in SEFNL competition, Hampton Park tasted victory in its SFNL debut.
The Redbacks won a tight contest against Springvale Districts on Good Friday.
Jason Chapple is back in charge at Hampton Park after a long absence, having most recently coached Mordialloc.
He isn’t keen to speculate on what his recruits will deliver until he has sufficient chance to see them perform under pressure.
However, Chapple concedes Michael Henry has experience at a higher level of footy and is expected to play well, whilst guiding the midfield group.
Jackson Fry offers versatility, being able to play at either end and coming from a high-quality Chelsea Heights’ outfit.
A flock of Doveton Doves and a trio of ex-Lyndale players have joined the Redbacks.
Henry is perhaps the most notable of the Doves, and Lyndale’s 2016 Best & Fairest winner Taylor Rainey is likely to be prominent.
Hampton Park’s squad looks imposing, but Chapple realises potential alone is not enough.
“Paper’s a fantastic thing, but let’s see who puts their hand up,” he says.
In the Good Friday clash, Cory Phillips, a new arrival from Officer in the SEFNL, was one to thrust up his hand.
His raking left-foot kicks, ability to gather heaps of possessions, and the fact he chimed in with a couple of goals saw him named the SFNL radio team’s player of the day.
Expect the Redbacks to get into the habit of winning and to be a serious flag prospect.
Predicted finish: 3rd
Finished last in division 2 in 2017
Coach: Shayne Sheedy (new)
Heatherton started its 2017 season with a win, but the joy ended there, with the Tonners failing to sing their song again during a dismal campaign.
An injection of fresh faces brings new hope at Ross Street Reserve.
One of those new arrivals is experienced coach Shayne Sheedy who shifted from Division 1 club Oakleigh District.
“They’re starting from behind the eight ball, having lost 17 games in a row,” Sheedy says of Heatherton’s players.
But, he points out that in a practice match against Tyabb approximately 15 blokes were new to the club.
Sheedy and Heatherton football director Andrew Coffey employed a networking approach to bolster the Tonners’ depth.
The success of this strategy is highlighted by the arrival of Sheedy’s 2015 Oakleigh District premiership star, Khaled Kandakji.
The electrifying small forward was the leading goal kicker for Cranbourne last season in a side that made the preliminary final.
Mark Stevens, a recruit from Rockbank in the RDFL impressed at full back in the Tyabb practice match.
A group of players has arrived from DWWWW in the Alberton League including former Hallam utility Travis Walker. Another from that group is John Mentiplay, described by Sheedy as “a small inside midfielder”.
Some notable departures from Heatherton are Jesse Stone, Chris Keenan, and Regan Maddaford.
Sheedy believes the club’s recruiting will offset its losses and provide sufficient depth.
Finals seem a realistic goal for Heatherton, although it may find itself in a tight battle for fourth spot on the ladder.
Predicted finish: 5th
Finished 6th in 2017
Coach: Darren Stegehuis (ongoing)
South Yarra joint skipper Scott Stegehuis expects an improved standard of football in the new eight-team division 3 competition.
He is happy with the Yarras’ recruiting efforts and the club’s ability to retain all its existing senior players from last season.
One recruit sure to attract attention is recent SFNL CEO David Cannizzo. Stegehuis makes it clear that Cannizzo’s playing ability and physique should see him play a prominent role in the team, when free from Sandringham CEO commitments.
“The weeks that he’s available I’d be pretty surprised if he wasn’t in the seniors. He’s a pretty solid boy, key position player.”
Cannizzo is adaptable, being able to play up forward or down back.
Another key position arrival is Nick Wilcox, from Mansfield in the GVL. Expect him to play in the forward line initially.
Blake Mios has transferred from the Adelaide Football League, bringing plenty to the Yarras besides what Stegehuis describes as “a nice Adelaide moustache”.
“He’s a winger, half back type. So he’s a pretty handy player,” notes the skipper.
Small forward Luke Dellorso isn’t actually a new recruit, but returns from a lengthy injury layoff.
Stegehuis indicates South Yarra expects to match it with all the sides in the division and has set a goal of playing finals.
The side is renowned for its competitiveness, particularly on the tight confines of Fritsch Holzer Park.
However, given last year’s squad missed finals and only a small number of recruits have been added, a presence beyond the home and away season appears unlikely with the increased standard of competition.
Predicted finish: 7th
Finished 10th in division 2 in 2017
Coach: Kris Thompson (ongoing)
Long-term Springvale Districts’ player, Kris Thompson assumed the coaching reins part way through last season, shortly after breaking his leg.
The injury put an end to his playing days.
He considers his experience as an assistant coach at Frankston in the VFL as a key to his ability to take on his current role.
“I wouldn’t be a senior coach if I didn’t spend time with Patrick Hill (senior coach at Frankston) and in the VFL system,” says Thompson.
A strong understanding of onfield structures is an important piece of knowledge he picked up during his time with the VFL Dolphins.
His players will need to heed the importance he places on this facet of the game.
“If you don’t play within the structures you won’t find yourself in the side,” Thompson says of his organised approach.
The influx of polished recruits to the Demons has been well documented.
However, experienced Springvale Districts’ ruckman Daniel Wilson demonstrated his importance in the Good Friday clash with Hampton Park.
He was a standout performer in a beaten side and is sure to be important in providing the likes of George Angelopoulos and Sam Raru with first use of the footy.
Thompson is confident the Demons have the necessary off-field structure in place to provide its playing list with the required support.
He mentions footy manager Greg Scott, who was previously footy manager at Frankston VFL, and club president Sean Francis.
Despite a first up loss to Hampton Park, expect big things from Springvale Districts this season.
It next takes on South Yarra on the wide expanses of Springvale Reserve.
Predicted finish: premiers