By Will Hunter
Saturday 13 May – 2:10pm
Marriott Waters Reserve, Boland Drive, Lyndhurst
Last season’s drought-breaking representative victory over Ellinbank & District has seen confidence restored at the Southern Football Netball League.
But rather than being content with his success to date, SFNL interleague coach Ben Lockwood remains firmly committed to leading the League’s charge up the AFL Victoria rankings.
This Saturday the SFNL will look to take another step forward as it hosts Central Highlands FL at Marriott Waters Reserve, Lyndhurst, as part of the 2017 Worksafe AFL Victoria Community Championships.
Lockwood, who returns to the helm for his second year in charge, said the 2017 squad had been buoyed by last year’s success.
“What we’ve found is that there is a lot more players willing to buy in and be a part of (the Interleague team)… and some part of that may be due to us winning last year,” Lockwood said.
“This year, more than last year, it has been a lot harder to pick a side. I know this day last year when we were picking a side, we only had 25, 26 to pick from. Last night we probably still had 35 guys around the mark.”
Southern carved up the bigger-bodied Ellinbank side last year, with its outside runners utilising the vast expanses of the Lyndhurst ground to full advantage. Lockwood believes their home venue will again play into their hands this time around.
“The ground’s big, we’ve got an inside knowledge of that, so we pick a squad that we know will cover the ground,” Lockwood said.
“Our thing with our guys is if we can cover the ground and move the footy quick, we might be able to put (Central Highlands) under some real pressure.
“We’re going to go in with the same mindset as last year, just play clear-minded footy and be really attacking.”
Lockwood expects up to a dozen players from the victorious 2016 side may take to the field again on Saturday, with a couple of others set to return from previous campaigns.
Dingley premiership star Andrew Frost, who will represent the SFNL for the third consecutive year, has assumed the Interleague captaincy from Tony Lavers. Lavers hung up the boots after leading the Dingoes to a second straight premiership win last year, but has remained involved in the Interleague program as an assistant coach.
East Malvern’s Nathan Robinson, who also played in the 2016 triumph, and Dingo Jackson Peet (a two-time SFNL representative in 2014 and 2015) have been appointed vice captains.
Robinson is set to play a key role in the Southern midfield alongside Panthers teammate Ed Sim and Keysborough’s Geoff Humphreys. The trio provided plenty of grunt around the contest last year and are expected to play similar roles again this year.
Meanwhile several big-name Dingoes may also get the chance to showcase their on-ball polish on Saturday. Peet, Lucas Walmsley, Robert Rusan, Josh Ferguson and Chris Horton-Milne, a Vic Metro representative in 2016, are all able to inflict significant damage with ball in hand and may be rotated through the midfield on Saturday.
The backline, a real strength for the SFNL in 2016, is poised to remain largely unchanged, with Frost, Cheltenham gun Daniel Vaughan and Oakleigh District’s Pat Carroll all likely to return.
Up forward, we can again expect a mobile forward structure. Dingley star Dan Farmer and Port Colts’ Torren Bonnett, who coincidentally lined up for the Western Region FL side against Southern in 2014, have been added to the squad alongside the dynamic duo of Jordan Peryman (Chelsea Heights) and Joel Jones-Hampton (Highett).
But Lockwood expects Walmsley, who has returned to Souter Oval after two successful years in the VFL system, to be the player that will have the biggest impact come Saturday.
“If you were going to make a ground to suit Lucas Walmsley, it’s going to be Lyndhurst. Heaps of space for him to run into and he can sprint super hard,” he said.
With strong midfield depth and a bevy of hard-working gut runners, it’s hoped this Southern team can use the space of Marriott Waters to full advantage and outwork the visitors through the midfield, which will ultimately help them lift the trophy.
The senior football match kicks off at 2:10pm.