In the lead up to the 2014 season, SEN and Inside Football’s Brett Anderson, along with some input from a few fellow track watchers and trusted SFL brains compiled a list of the Top 40 players in the competition.
As you could imagine, it has been an extremely challenging task with players from 30 senior teams to choose from.
No doubt there have been some surprise selections and some notable omissions, which makes the exercise all the more interesting, but remember, the list is purely subjective and based upon personal opinion… feel free to buy him a beer if you want to be bumped up the list for next year!
Join in the conversation & provide feedback on the list so far on Twitter via @BrettAndersonIF and/or @SouthernFL and don’t forget to include the hashtag #SFLTop40
So without further adieu, here is the final instalment in the four part series as Brett lists his top 10 players in the Southern Football League entering season 2014.
1. Luke James (St Pauls)
As far as match winners go, Luke James stands apart from the rest. The best player in the competition for the second straight year, ‘LJ’s’ eight goals in the 2013 Grand Final were proof enough of his standing in the SFL. Now in his second stint at the kennel, and fresh off 86 goals last season, the freakish left footer has always known where the big sticks are – he kicked 98 goals in 2009 with Catani, 119 and 93 in 2011 and 2012 with Kilcunda Bass. Whether it be taking hangers (like the one on East Brighton’s Nathan Stewart in the finals last year), turning opponents inside out in the space of three quick steps, or threading the eye of a needle from the boundary line, it is clear that the St Pauls spearhead is one of the most special talents to have graced not only the Southern league, but local footy over the past decade.
2. Damien Rayson (East Brighton)
East Brighton’s star recruit comes with plenty of wraps, but if his performance in last month’s Interleague match is any guide – he booted two goals and was clearly best afield for the SFL, he is ready to live up to the billing. Rayson played with Hampton Rovers and De La Salle after missing selection with the Sandringham Dragons before winding up at Coburg where he played nearly 100 senior VFL games. He figured mostly as a running defender at VFL level, but should slot in nicely to the Vampires star-studded midfield due to his super fitness and work rate. His recruitment makes East Brighton the clear-cut premiership favorites.
3. Dean Williamson (East Brighton)
Seen by many as the best midfielder in the competition over the past few seasons, the tattooed Vampire ball winner finally received his due recognition by sharing the league medal in 2013 with Steve Arvanitis and Liam Wilson. A three-time best and fairest winner at East after crossing from Seaford, Williamson is a hard-running, contested ball winning beast, whose ability to also push forward and kick goals makes him a match-up nightmare. He was named captain of the SFL Interleague team that played the Western Region league in March and kicked two goals.
4. Andrew Gilbert (St Pauls)
Since joining St Pauls from Eastern league powerhouse Noble Park, Gilbert has quickly developed into the best big man in the competition and was duly recognized by being the No. 1 ruckman in the Interleague team last month. His ability to give the Doggies on-ball brigade first use at the stoppages is one element, but his athleticism and ability to push forward hard from the contest to put pressure on his opposition ruckman is unmatched. Coming off a broken leg that deprived the Doggies of their most important big man in 2012, his 2013 season couldn’t have been more impressive.
5. Liam Bowman (East Brighton)
It’s hard to recall the last time the East Brighton premiership defender was genuinely beaten – it was possibly in under-14s! A home-grown product of the Vampires junior club, Bowman slips under the radar of many due to his laid back approach and no-fuss demeanour. He can play on smalls such as Travis Ridgway, or talls like Chris Graham with equal effect and his ability to read the ball in flight, or nip in to make a last-minute spoil sees him rated by his opponents as the hardest player to get a kick on in the competition.
6. Brett Collins (Cheltenham)
Another of Cheltenham’s much talked about recruits is the former Hawthorn rookie and St Bedes-Mentone premiership player. Collins joins the Rosellas having kicked 164 goals in three seasons with Cohuna playing on a wing and up forward – including a bag of 19 against Balranald in 2012. A smooth-mooving, silky skilled utility, if he can maintain the form shown up the bush, ‘Collo’ – who already has his own appreciation group on Facebook, is sure to be a fan favorite on the hill at Jack Barker Oval and form a dangerous attack along with Chris Graham, Pat Nicholls, Matt Andrews and George Rowlands.
7. Travis Ridgway (St Pauls)
The quick, elusive small forward was one of the elite players in the competition in his last stint at the kennel and after booting 156 goals in three seasons with Old Haileybury, he returns to the reigning premier in fine touch. In his last season in red, white and blue, he kicked 123 majors in 2010 and was virtually unstoppable on occasions. Currently in career-best shape after dropping a few kilos thanks to a vigorous personal training schedule, his combination with Luke James and Callum Cathcart will be worth the price of admission alone this season.
8. Steve Arvanitis (St Kilda City)
The 2013 league medallist seemingly gets better with age. A star as a youngster with Oakleigh District and in a previous stint with City, Arvanitis enjoyed a stellar season last year and was one of the main reasons why the Saints were able to make a late season charge into September. Whether it be in the ruck, or resting up forward, he is a handful for any opponent with his strong marking and accurate kicking for goal. If the Saints are to make the top five again, it will all start with their quality big man in the middle.
9. Gary Johnstone (St Kilda City)
I’m not entirely sure where Johnstone got the nickname ‘Boots’ from, but there is a fair chance it emanates from the saying, ‘Tough as old boots’. The St Kilda City half back flanker/midfielder has been a constant at the Peanut Farm through their dominant years, as well as some of the lean ones. In an ominous sign for opposing coaches, the ex-Port Melbourne and Oakleigh Charger is as fit as ever having recently completed the Melbourne Ironman and his run and attack on the ball was sorely missed in the Interleague clash last month.
10. Chris Graham (Cheltenham)
115 goals in two seasons since arriving at Jack Barker Oval from Cohuna is a fair feat for the strong marking forward. Graham would have claimed back-to-back Division 1 goalkicking awards if not for Luke James' 16 goal frenzy in the final round last year. With a few fellow attacking targets moving on in 2013 Graham typically had to compete against not only his opponent, but often, two or three extra defenders. In many cases he still came out on top. With Pat Nicholls, Matt Andrews and George Rowlands to assist him this year, ‘Grazer’ should have more opportunities to get his opponent one-on-one where he is nearly unbeatable.