By Will Hunter
Tomorrow the Southern Football Netball League will be aiming to take the next step in its swift ascent up the AFL Victoria state-wide rankings.
Following back-to-back wins over Ellinbank & District and Central Highlands in the last two years, Southern will face its biggest challenge yet as it travels to Boort to take on the strong North Central Football League at the 2018 Worksafe AFL Victoria Community Championships.
But despite the lengthy road trip and formidable opposition, Coach Ben Lockwood – now in his third year in the role – says he is not about to change a winning formula.
“It hasn’t change year to year, really. You just try and play a pretty exciting brand of footy,” Lockwood said.
“We are still going to rely on that quick ball movement because we are not the biggest team in the world.”
The key to Southern’s last two victories has been its emphasis on whole-ground defensive pressure, forcing turnovers and not allowing easy possession to the opposition’s prime movers. As such, the selectors have opted for a squad that fits this approach.
“The best players in the comp are generally the ones who do all three facets of the game well. We attack (the footy) well, we’ve got good skills – we can mark it, kick it, all that sort of stuff – but we also defend, and that’s what all the guys in the squad are really good at,” Lockwood explained.
“The whole idea is for them to be pretty instinctive when we’ve got the footy, you know, play attacking, be aggressive… but also (have) that mentality of when we turn the footy over, we’ve got 18 guys defending.
“For the last five years I’ve been involved – two as an assistant and three as coach – we’ve gone down that path of picking guys that are willing to roll their sleeves up and be defensive when needed.”
But while the game style and defensive mentality remains the same, it will be a largely new-look Southern side that takes to the field tomorrow.
Last year’s captain, Andrew Frost, has retired from representative football, with the baton passed to his Dingley teammate Danny Ades.
All up, 14 players will pull on the SFNL jumper for the first time, with just six players retained from last year. Dingley co-Captain Travis La Rocca returns to the side for the first time since 2015, while St Pauls key defender Will Clarke makes the step up from last year’s Under 19 rep team.
Mixed among the playing group is plenty of youth and leadership, which Lockwood says will be very advantageous come game day.
“We’ve got a really young list… I reckon our average age is about 23, 24 (years old),” he said.
“(And) I think we’ve got five club captains playing – Jack Worrell, obviously Peety (Jackson Peet) and Trav (La Rocca) share it at Dingley, Jack Hammond and Todd Bastion. And you’ve got Danny Ades who’s a playing assistant coach at Dingley, so you’ve got some experience and some voice.
“Given that we are travelling, and travelling so far, it’s good that it’s a younger group and there’s some good leadership amongst them.”
And on paper, it looks a tremendously potent side with in-form Harry Czarnecki, Luke Poustie and Will Clarke taking up the key defensive posts. The trio are not only effective stoppers but can also provide plenty of drive on the rebound.
Up the other end, Southern will enter the clash with just one recognised tall forward in Cheltenham’s Josh Fox, while several “hybrids” will be used to play multiple forward roles. Fox will be the anchor in the forward line where his height and sure hands will trouble the North Central back line, while the goals are likely to come from an even spread of contributors.
North Central are tipped to be strong in the ruck division, so East Malvern ruckman Chris Carey looms as a key for this Southern side. Carey has been red-hot for the Panthers so far in 2018, and Lockwood describes the Port Melbourne-listed big man as a “fifth onballer when the ball hits the ground and his kicking is elite”.
But when asked what he through the side’s greatest strength was, Lockwood had no hesitation in his response.
“Mate, it’s our run. Our outside run, there’s no doubt,” he said emphatically.
“You look at guys like Noodles (Lucas Walmsley), Jackson Peet, Steve Murray I think will surprise a few – he’s a high half forward that can run and carry the footy, covers ground. Danny Ades is very athletic.
“Even guys in the back half in Lucas Hall and Trav La Rocca and Mick Rogers, they all run and carry the footy, so it’s going to be a real advantage that we’ve got.”
The senior match kicks off at Boort Park at 2:15pm, with the Under 19s commencing at 12:00pm.
SFNL SENIOR INTERLEAGUE TEAM
Lucas Hall (East Malvern), Harry Czarnecki (Chelsea Heights), Luke Poustie (East Malvern)
Travis La Rocca (Dingley), Will Clarke (St Pauls), Michael Rogers (Bentleigh)
Lucas Walmsley (Dingley), Danny Ades - Captain (Dingley), Jack Hammond (East Malvern)
Sam Murray (Bentleigh), Ben Humphrey (Mordialloc), Jackson Peet (Dingley)
Pat Carroll (Ashwood), Josh Fox (Cheltenham), Clinton Proctor (Mordialloc)
Chris Carey (East Malvern), Luke Duffy (East Malvern), Todd Bastion (Mordialloc)
Alexy Hywood (East Malvern), Jack Worrell (Cheltenham), Lachie Dobson (Chelsea Heights), Jordy Peryman (Chelsea Heights)