2016 Division 1 Season Preview

By Will Hunter

Season 2016 is shaping to be one of the most even and exciting in recent years. The flag race is wide open with a number of clubs fancying themselves to steal Dingley's crown. As many as eight sides can count themselves genuine finals chances, which will make for an exciting conclusion to the home and away season. But unfortunately eight doesn't go into five, so there will be some clubs pondering what might have been come the first week of September.

With Round 1 starting this Saturday, let's take a closer look at each of the 10 Division 1 clubs and see who may have what it takes to claim Division 1 supremacy at the end of the year.




Coach: Paul Dimattina

2015 Finish: 7th

Key Signings: Pat Nicholls (Cheltenham), Tom Backman (East Brighton), Andrew Walsh (Avondale Heights), Kayne O’Brien (West Gambier), Nick Perry (Caulfield)

Departures: Matt Troutbeck (Richmond VFL), Jackson Meredith (Sandringham VFL)

My word it’s been a busy off-season at Arthur Street!

The brains trust at Bentleigh, clearly dissatisfied with their results last season, set upon a recruiting raid that addressed deficiencies within its line up, with the ultimate aim to have its on-field performances more reflective of its status as an off-field benchmark.

The club treaded water in 2015 and finished the year on six wins – the same as 2014, its first season in the top grade after its 2013 Division 2 premiership. However, what is often overlooked is the fact that their first three losses were by two goals or less, and the club could quite easily have started the year 5-0 and been on track for finals.

Nevertheless, the club identified height as an area they were lacking in, and picked up a gun key forward in Pat Nicholls, a towering ruckman in Andrew Walsh and a host of other versatile talls. In terms of needs recruiting, the Demons have certainly nailed the brief, and there is no doubt these additions will have an immediate impact to the team’s structure.

Captain Scott Lawry continues to perform week in, week out and will again be central to his side’s success this year. The Demons veteran shared Ellis Medal honours with Liam Wilson last year, and remains one of the game’s preeminent clearance specialists with his ability to dominate around the stoppages. He will be a major beneficiary of Walsh’s recruitment, while B&F winner Sam McGarry will again be a prominent performer for the Demons.

However, the club will be without young stars Matt Troutbeck and Jackson Meredith (2015 B&F runner up) for most of the year as the pair have progressed their promising careers to VFL ranks.

The Demons now possess a side with a great blend of youth and experience and if their gun recruits can gel into the side early on in the year, then the sky is the limit for Paul Dimattina’s boys. Mark Bentleigh down as 2016’s biggest improvers.

2016 Predicted Finish: 3rd




Coach: Des Ryan

2015 Finish: 8th

Key Signings: James Pennycuick (Mordialloc), Chris Neophitou (Clayton), Tim Wigney (Dingley), Michael Dewar (Old Brighton)

Departures: Pat Nicholls, George Rowlands, Pat Bolger

Season 2015 could be adequately described as the year from hell for Cheltenham. The year promised so much after 10 wins saw them finish fourth after the 2014 home and away season. But the Rosellas were decimated by injuries to key players and could muster only half as many wins last year.

In the off-season the club launched a recruiting raid targeting former Cheltenham players. And it has been a success of sorts, with 2013 club best and fairest winner Chris Neophitou returning after two years at Clayton and forward James Pennycuick transferring back to the club after a premiership at Mordialloc.

VAFA star Michael Dewar joins his brother Andy at the club and will certainly bolster the Rosella’s midfield stocks. So too will Jackson Barclay, who will make his long-awaited return after missing all of 2015 with a knee reconstruction. Dashing half back Dan Vaughan and solid utility Jarryd Bloink are also poised to make a big impact this year.

Further news has recently filtered through that former Adelaide Crows midfielder and Sandringham Zebras co-vice captain Myke Cook has nominated Cheltenham as his home club. How often he represents the Rosellas in 2016 is subject to his VFL commitments, but he will certainly have a major impact on any game he plays in the red, yellow and black.

But the off-season departures may leave holes in the team’s structure, with forward Pat Nicholls (the club’s leading goalkicker last year) and ruckman Pat Bolger (2014 B&F winner) leaving for other SFNL clubs.

The fact that their reserves have made consecutive Grand Finals shows that depth isn’t an issue at the club. However, there are question marks over whether they have the top-end talent required to give the senior competition a shake.

2016 Predicted Finish: 9th




Coach: Nick Scanlon

2015 Finish: 6th

Key Signings: Lee Boyle (Narre Warren), Trent Papworth (Narre Warren)

Departures: Jesse Henderson

Clayton is one club that perhaps promised more than they delivered in 2015. They finished sixth on the ladder last year, however, the fact that they were still three wins (and nearly 50%) off a finals berth suggests they have some work to do if they are to challenge the competition’s big guns.

Only once last year did the Clays knock off a side above them on the ladder – a one-point victory over St Pauls with a goal in the dying seconds in Round 11 – which is another reflection of where they were at last year.

But after a full season under playing coach Nick Scanlon, the Clays could just be ready to break into the top five. Scanlon knows a thing or two about success, having played in no fewer than six premierships at Narre Warren.

Scanlon has this year convinced former Magpies teammates Lee Boyle and Trent Papworth to join he and brother Stewart at Meade Reserve. The newly-recruited Narre pair come to the club with massive wraps, and look to be fine great additions to a club that already has a pretty even spread of contributors across the board.

The Scanlon boys proved to be handy acquisitions last year, slotting 91 goals between them and wreaking havoc in attack. Ever-dependable skipper Jayden Gilmore was rarely beaten in defence while young half back Andy Ray is a rising star that knows how to find and use the footy. The midfield too had its fair share of polish with Chris Morrison and Chris Lee finishing first and second in club

The Clays are a talented group and would likely view anything less than a finals appearance as wasted season. This could be the year they finally break through into September.

2016 Predicted Finish: 5th




Coach: Shane Morwood

2015 Finish: 1st

Key Signings: Chris Horton-Milne (Noble Park), Josh Ferguson (Noble Park) Ryan Stewart (Chelsea), Chris Morgan (Sorrento)

Departures: Jackson Peet (Frankston VFL), Dean Francis, Jake Mullen, Dan Bolger, Bret Lavars, Daniel Turcarelli

Season 2015 proved to be the ‘Year of the Dingo’ as the boys from Dingley stormed to their maiden SFNL Division 1 Senior premiership.

But can Shane Morwood’s men sweep all before them once more and claim back-to-back flags? Recent history is stacked against them – just one side in the last 15 years has won premierships in consecutive seasons (St Kilda City in 2009-2010).

The Dingoes have lost a host of players over the off-season, including premiership stars Jackson Peet and Dean Francis, and these departures may see the side’s depth tested more than in has been in recent years. But while this may bring the club’s Reserve and Thirds teams brought back to the pack after years of sustained dominance, Dingley’s Senior team should remain a very powerful outfit in 2016.

The additions of Ryan Stewart, Chris Morgan, Chris Horton-Milne and Josh Ferguson should bolster a side already brimming with talent on every line. Best & Fairest winner Dan Farmer has proved a match-winner on multiple occasions with his ability to rack up big numbers and kick multiple goals, runner-up Stu Cleeve will likely provide his midfielders with first use of the ball through his sublime tap ruckwork and super-stopper Tom Wright is rarely beaten in defence. Meanwhile skipper Tony Lavars and the hard-running Matt Morwood are dangerous on the rebound and often launch devastating counter-attacks off half back.

Shane Morwood is one of local football’s most astute coaches, leaving nothing to change and demanding nothing but 100% effort and commitment from all of his charges. He will no doubt have his side very well drilled and each player will perform their role to the best of their ability every single week. They have already scaled the mountain and they know what it takes to win a premiership, so in a very even competition, going back-to-back is a very real possibility.

2016 Predicted Finish: 1st



East Brighton

Coach: Peter Larsen

2015 Finish: 3rd

Key Signings: Aaron Viney (Burnie), Shaun Pearce (Boort)

Departures: Ben Douthie, Hamish Dahl, Damien Rayson, David De Luca, Phil Smith, Toby Mahoney, Jerremy Heys

East Brighton’s reign as a competition pace-setter is likely to end after a mass exodus at the end of last season.

Their 2015 campaign ended in sensational style, throwing away a 48-point lead to Mordialloc in the Preliminary Final. In doing so, it ended a streak of four consecutive Grand Finals – a run that netted the club premierships in 2012 and 2014.

But after losing most of the players from that Prelim Final team, as well as coach Ben Murphy, the club finds itself in a similar position to what Chelsea Heights did last season.

In a further blow for the club, East Brighton will be forced to play the majority of its home matches at Widdop Crescent (the home of Moorabbin Kangaroos) while Hurlingham Park undergoes a multi-million-dollar upgrade.

However, new coach Peter Larsen (a recently-retired Vampire) is confident the confines of the compact venue may assist the team in its defensive efforts.

The player movement at East Brighton is not a one-way street and the club has picked up a few handy recruits, chief among which are Aaron Viney and Shaun Pearce. Viney joins the Vampires from the Tasmanian State League and will be a weapon in the midfield, while Shaun Pearce will be an imposing presence at full forward.

Reigning Best & Fairest winner Andrew ‘Sparkles’ Jansen assumes the captaincy after Ben Douthie’s departure. Jansen is a long-term servant of the club, and a star off half back and the wing.

The Hurlingham redevelopment is slated for competition later this year, so it’s possible the Vampires could be playing at their spiritual home before the year is out. The upgrade will also give the club state of the art facilities that will be close to the best in the SFNL, so the long-term future of the club looks rosy. Unfortunately, 2016 could be a long year on the field for East Brighton.

2016 Predicted Finish: 10th



East Malvern

Coach: Ben Lockwood

2015 Finish: 4th

Key Signings: Nathan Robinson (Bonbeach), Jimmy Dowling (Yinnar), Lachie Dowling (Thorpedale), Aaron Fiora (Hampton), Justin Crameri (Uni Blacks)

Departures: Jessie Finnen, Ryan Fitzgerald, Benji Neale, Chris Duck, Callan Vandyke

East Malvern were tipped to make the jump into the top five in 2015, and didn’t disappoint the pundits.

They started the season in positive fashion, hammering St Pauls to announce themselves as a flag contender. But despite qualifying third with a double chance, consecutive losses to East Brighton and Mordialloc saw them knocked out of the finals race in straight sets.

And this wasted opportunity will no doubt provide the motivation to go further in 2016.

Highly esteemed former Chelsea Heights and Hampton coach Ben Lockwood takes the reins of the side, replacing Justin Cowell, while Kurt Gowers assumes the captaincy from Mitchell Ferguson. These changes of leadership could be a breath of fresh air for the group and help move the club forward.

East Malvern have recruited several players over the summer months that will not only off-set the losses of Jessie Finnen, Ryan Fitzgerald and Benji Neale, but ultimately boost the depth of the entire club. The Panthers reserves were found wanting for numbers at times last year and struggled for continuity. With this issue now addressed, expect the entire club to be a stronger, more cohesive unit.

The Panthers’ top-end talent will be hard to contain with Nathan Robinson tearing it up in the preseason and Jimmy Dowling another huge inclusion. Additionally, they will benefit from the return of key playmaker Tremaine Tohiariki, who missed the vast majority of last season through injury, while Mark Ryan will again deal some damage on the scoreboard. Ryan won the Division 1 goalkicking award last season with 65 majors.

With Ben Lockwood now at the helm, and with a great list at his disposal, the Panthers are well-placed to improve upon their Semi Final exit last year.

2016 Predicted Finish: 2nd




Coach: Jason Chapple

2015 Finish: 2nd

Key Signings: Chris Langdon (Beaumaris), Scott Bradley (Glenrowan) Alistair Pike (Glenrowan)

Departures: Sam Anstey, Anthony Scafidi, James Pennycuick

Mordialloc were the Cindarella story of 2016, becoming the first side since 1998 to reach a Division 1 Grand Final the year after winning a Division 2 premiership. Their performances in last year's finals series will be talked about for years to come, after making the decider from fifth on the ladder and coming from 48 points behind to defeat East Brighton in the Preliminary Final.

AFL Victoria Coach of the Year Sam Anstey is longer at the helm, but a very capable replacement in Jason Chapple takes the reins. Chapple returns to coaching after a two-year hiatus, but has a wealth of coaching experience from the strong Mornington Peninsula league, most recently in charge of Chelsea.

There will certainly be changes in the way Chapple goes about things this year, however, don't expect a radical overhaul to their game style and structure. They will certainly look to again play an exciting and fast-paced style of footy with plenty of run and spread, particularly on the vast expanses of Ben Kavanagh Reserve, but also expect a harder edge to the Bloods as well and be effective on the inside.

While there has been little movement at the station again this year in terms of transfers, the core group to remain together for yet another season. Skipper Todd Bastion will again do some heavy lifting in the guts, but the Bloods run very deep through the midfield with players like Beau Turner, Nathan Evans, Carey Neville and Jake O’Donnell all able to lend ample support.

You can also expect big things from bookends James Morris, Michael Barnhoorn and Josh Jewell again this season.

Sometimes you have to go backwards to go forwards, and I have a feeling they might not live up to expectations after a stunning 2015. But after a full season under Chapple, look out for this mob in 2017 and beyond.

2016 Predicted Finish: 6th



Oakleigh District

Coach: Shayne Sheedy

2015 Finish: 1st (Division 2)

Key Signings: Ryan Pearson (Doveton), Jake Mullen (Dingley)

Departures: Grant Pitts, Marty Gurry

The Oaks last year snapped a 57-year premiership drought and sent the black and white faithful into raptures. They proved a cut above Murrumbeena in the Division 2 decider, leading from go to woah and running out convincing 62-point winners.

Their success last year was largely due to their all-star line-up, particularly in attack. David Velardo claimed the league goal kicking title with 61 majors, while former Essendon star Aaron Henneman and the electric Kholed Kandakji provided able support. This dangerous trio proved at times impossible to contain.

Most positively for the club, they have managed to keep most of their premiership side together, with the retirements of Grant Pitts and Marty Gurry the only losses of note. Meanwhile the Oaks welcome the return of veteran ace Paul Fermanis as well as the addition of Dingley premiership player Jake Mullen, which will further strengthen their list.

Andy Howison, BOG in the Grand Final, was a prolific ball winner and a worthy winner of the club B&F. Another big year from the star New Zealander, as well as Dan Kiellerup and skipper Brody Hodic and Oakleigh District could claim a few big scalps throughout the year.

But the great unknown is how they perform in Division 1. Coach Shayne Sheedy is confident the side can perform well in the higher grade, but is under no illusion as to the challenge that lies ahead. I think they should acquit themselves reasonably well, however finals may be a bridge too far.

2016 Predicted Finish: 8th



St Kilda City

Coach: Robert Johns

2015 Finish: 9th

Key Signings: Ricky Thomson (Tongala), Brent Gutterson (East Burwood), Jonathon Hay (Nunawading)

Departures: Aaron Purvis, Gavin Mahoney, Shane Reid, John Stinear, Tim Sullivan, Jay Bruno

It’s been a lean couple of years down at the Peanut Farm. After their heart-breaking extra-time Elimination Final defeat to Chelsea Heights in 2013, the club dropped to 8th 2014 and then 9th last year.

St Kilda City have struggled for reasons many and varied. But the winds of change have seen a new president (Nick Porter), a new coach (Robert Johns), a new captain (Ricky Thomson) and a new leadership group appointed to arrest the slide and lead the club into a new era.

Thomson, Brett Gutterson and former Hawthorn and North Melbourne defender Jonathon Hay headline the new arrivals at St Kilda City. I’m looking forward to seeing the trio in action, particularly Hay who, although getting on in years, would still have plenty left to give at this level. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him lining up at full forward throughout the year kick bags of goals.

The Saints Under 19s won the premiership last season under the tutelage of Nathan Johns, the son of new senior coach Robert, and you’d expect some of those kids to play more regular senior footy this year. Ollie Gabelich especially looks a ready-made senior player with his hulking frame, and his seven-goal, best-afield performance in the Grand Final underlined his extraordinary talent.

A few of the Saints youngsters were brought into the senior side for the club’s final home game last year and showed they were up to the standard. Athletic ruckman Ayang Nyanjok, gun midfielder Perry O’Hehir-Vargas and powerful forward Xavier Pauli (three goals) all stood out that day in City’s surprise win over eventual runner-up Mordialloc, and would be valuable contributors if given an extended stint in the seniors.

After bottoming out in the last couple of years, the Saints are now beginning to rebuild and could be a force in future seasons. They could take some scalps this year, but don’t expect miracles in year one.

2016 Predicted Finish: 7th



St Pauls

Coach: Richard Houston

2015 Finish: 3rd

Key Signings: Justin Berry (Garfield), Nick Shannon (Catani), Jay Ting (Hampton Rovers), Josh Verlin (Hampton Rovers)

Departures: Brendan Dawes, Ryan Kitchin, Nick Gilbert, Andy Gilbert, Tim Blackwood, Peter Mercoulia, Jay Street, Matthew Kreymborg

It was a season of two halves for the Dogs in ’15.

They overcame a slow start to the year and, despite numerous injuries to key personnel, stormed into the finals series on the back of an incredible winning streak – 10 wins from their last 11 home and away games. Unfortunately, they couldn’t maintain the rage, and went down to the Bloods in the Elimination Final.

The Dogs pulled off one of the biggest recruit shocks of the off-season by installing Richard Houston as its head coach. Houston is one of the League’s most successful coaches of all time, winning four premierships (and once runner up) during his five seasons in the SFNL with St Kilda City and Parkmore.

Joining Houston at the Kennel will be host of new recruits, including former VFL livewire Justin Berry, who looms as a key weapon in attack for the Dogs this year alongside the dangerous Travis Ridgway and Callum Cathcart. Nick Shannon and Josh Verlin will also add some height to the side, particularly up forward.

The club has appointed the talented Harley Ambrose as its new skipper, replacing the retired Ken Hall, while reigning Ellis Medallist Liam Wilson and defender Kieran Knox will assume joint vice captaincy. Expect all three to lead from the front in 2016.

We saw last season the introduction of some of St Pauls’ talented youngsters, and Houston has been on record as saying he will blood these youngsters into the senior side throughout the year. On that basis, there could be some exciting times ahead at the Kennel.

For 2016 though, it may be an up-and-down year. The have got a good blend of experience and youth, and while they are perhaps a side in a transitional phase, don’t expect them to drop off the pace either.

2016 Predicted Finish: 4th

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