Premier Division Preview

9th – UNSW/ES Bulldogs

 

2015 finishing position – 9th

 

Coach – Steve Dunkley

 

Player movement

In: Mitch Evans, Brad Walsh, Scott Sherwin, Harry Sleigh

 

Out: Nicholas Gandy, Justin Holloway

 

What they need / where they need to improve

Finishing at the bottom of the ladder the previous season with just one win to your name suggests there is plenty needed so it will be slow steps for what will likely be a young Bulldogs side. Without stating the obvious, it’s the bookends that are most needed. To win games of football you need to kick goals and a key forward is a start. It’s been a tough position to fill since Leigh Lavery’s golden days at the club. The side kicked the least amount of points in the competition with Ryan Farrelly being the clubs leading goal kicker last year with just 22 goals so a focal point up forward is a must. Similarly, a key defender to repel the oppositions forward thrusts is required for the side who leaked over 100 points per game. Fortunately the likely return of premiership centre half-back Tom Heath will bolster the defensive stocks, as will the return of the silky Jeremy Kiel who can play across the backline of half forward as required.

 

Star attraction

There are a number of high calibre players throughout the line-up who bring a lot of experience including the few returning players. Former premiership ruckmen Sam Tagliabue has returned to Sydney and while he will likely be a mainstay in the Sydney University NEAFL side, the Bulldogs faithful would love to see a few games in the Blue, Red and White. Throw in the dashing Matt Round and the quality of Jeremy Kiel and there is certainly a reason to keep a close eye on some players at the kennel. And that’s without mentioning the highly under rated Tim Widmer who battled gamely all last year and will shoulder much of the ruck work again.

 

Leading Phelan Medal vote getter

While its highly unlikely there are any genuine chances to claim the Phelan, Jeremy Kiel would be the likely leading Bulldog.

 

Summary

It’s not an overstatement to say that this is a pivotal season for the Bulldogs after a dismal 2015. Further hurting them is the lack of a home ground at the moment. Fortunately there appears to be light at the end of the tunnel with the return of a few favourites sons though and an abundance of talent filtering its way through from the Under 19’s. After finishing runners up last season and a strong junior pipeline, many of the local juniors will be pressing their claim for senior positions which can only be a positive. While you can’t expect miracles, you can expect a much more competitive side in 2016 with added depth who while likely to finish closer to the bottom than the top of the ladder. Additionally they will benefit from their selection in the NEAFL mini-draft and with any luck a few games from Tagliabue. Inbound transfer Scott Sherwen, 2015 captain of Old Scotch in the VAFA Premier competition could well be the recruit of the season and one who will need to be kept an eye on.

 

 

8th – Western Suburbs Magpies

 

2015 finishing position – 7th

 

Coach – Lindsay Scown

 

Player movement

In: Martin Brown

Out: Taran Etto, Joshua Kunde, Paul Bevan

 

What they need / where they need to improve

Western Suburbs were the slowest starter in 2015 thanks to a list of new players taking time to gel. When they finally hit their straps they had missed the boat despite notching up a few late victories. This year they again will have a new side so they need to hit the ground running which will be made harder by a late coaching change. The young backline led by Yannick Milligan-Saville needs a bit more depth while a key forward is a must. The side were shaky at best in front of goal, highlighted by their Round 6 loss to UTS which saw 10 straight behind before their first goal in the third quarter and need to capitalise on any chances provided this year.

 

Star attraction

With Paul Bevan and Taran Etto moving on it's likely to be left to athletic ruckmen Cameron Gordon who is capable of higher level football and the younger brigade led by Tom Kannan and Jordan Etto (younger brother of Taran). Ryan Speed was a shining light for the Magpies in 2015 highlighted by his runner up finish in the Rising Star Award so if he plays is a talent to follow.

 

Leading Phelan Medal vote getter

Its likely to be slim pickings this year for the Magpies but a player like Jordan Etto might poll a few votes and is a player of the future

 

Summary

Unfortunately for the Magpies it’s a case of big name departures this season which will really hurt their chances. With leading goal kicker and former Sydney Swans player Bevan moving north and club Best & Fairest Etto heading west, the side face an uphill battle to improve on what ended up being a disappointing 2015. Further adding to their tough preseason campaign was the loss of highly regarded new coach Roger Moten who took up a role with the GWS GIANTS. Their hope must be that the quality crop of Under 19’s who went back-to-back in the Division Two competition over the last two seasons bloom quickly and are up to senior football. A number of these have already tasted senior football which will help. What will not help though is a lack of depth outside of the top 25 players. A similar win / loss record to last year would be expected and unlikely to play finals.

 

 

7th – North Shore

 

2015 finishing position – 8th

 

Coach – Ryan Meldrum 

 

What they need / where they need to improve

Plain and simple for the Bombers, they need to tighten their defence. The worst defensive record in the comp with over 100 points per game conceded, the side need to add personel to this area. Like the other sides predicted to be towards the bottom of the ladder, that key position player up forward would be nice. Having a number of key big men there in recent years was something you take for granted. The sides depth was tested at times last year but the club seem to be on the up in all grades again after some rebuilding and this will hold them in good stead.

 

Star attraction

It’s hard not to love the way little Sam Carruthers goes about his football. At the bottom of every pack, he was within a whisker of claiming a Phelan Medal just a couple of years ago and will lead from the front. The versatile Selby Lee-Steere should have returned to the country after a year away and if he does and is at his peak is close to the best player in the competition. If not the best, certainly the most versatile with his ability to play ruckmen, key position forward or back and more recently as ruck rover!

 

Leading Phelan Medal vote getter

Both Sam Carruthers and Selby Lee-Steere are perennial vote getters but tipping one of the younger brigade to top them in Alex Jalloh

 

Summary

The addition of a number of the premiership winning Under 19’s side to the senior side this season, a Sydney University NEAFL player by way of the mini-draft and the potential for a return of Selby Lee-Steere to the side is a boost for a club on the up. While probably not expected to threaten for a flag just yet, a jump into finals isn’t out of the question. You would expect an improvement on their three wins in season 2015 and should be a real threat in the following seasons.

 

 

6th – Sydney University

 

2015 finishing position – 5th

 

Coach – Ben Merson

 

Player movement

In: Bailey Biggs, Shaun Bradley, Liam Blue

Out: Haini Chahrouk, Jarrod Irving

 

What they need / where they need to improve

Consistency. This unfortunately is one somewhat out of coach Merson’s control due to the NEAFL side above determining player movement. That will always be their achilles heel however they do boast a solid spine with a strong key forward in Tom Elkington. In preseason practice matches Tom Elkington played in the midfield for long periods, so depending on the students forwards depth we may see this dominant forward changing roles in 2016. The side suffered two unfortunate ACL injuries last year with promising big man Will Stratford and gun midfielder Sam Sleigh both suffering the unfortunate injury. For the students to win matches this year they will need to find some talent to replace these two gun players.

 

Star attraction

This will vary week to week pending NEAFL selections and who drops back to the Premier Division side but you can guarantee most weeks will feature very high quality players coming back through the ressies as seen over the past year. With that said; two of the sides regular star attractions will be the Hawtin brothers Ben and Alex. Coming up through the Riverview program as juniors Ben and Alex are two talented youngsters who could take the league by storm in 2016.  Expect them to feature strongly in Ben Merson’s votes this year.

 

Leading Phelan Medal vote getter

Very hard to get a gauge on this side and who will play in what division but after a strong 2015 to go with his Rising Star nomination Ben Hawtin could be a surprise Phelan front runner. Ben has had a huge preseason and will no doubt have a strong year for the students.

 

Summary

Being the sole reserve grade side in the competition makes things tougher for the Students but have overcome these challenges in recent years to play finals and will be thereabouts this season. Along the way they have caused their fair share of upsets and held last year’s premiers Pennant Hills to a draw at Mike Kenny Oval last season. They are very well drilled with NEAFL aspirants playing through the side meaning they are generally very disciplined and know their role. Depth certainly isn’t an issue with their lower grades enjoying plenty of success in recent years. Like the UTS Bats, opposition clubs will again struggle to match up the Students with so many weekly changes which will help their case. Speaking of UTS, you’d be pretty confident that the Students or Bats will be the 5th team in finals so their battles this year will be absolutely pivotal.

5th – UTS Bats

 

2015 finishing position – 6th

 

Coach – Nic Fosdike

 

Player movement

In: Brett Liddell, Joshua Murray

Out: Michael Lebbon, Harry Sleigh

 

What they need / where they need to improve

It’s the age old story for the Bats, they’d give anything for a bit of youth and outside run. They have managed to get a few more of these types in recent years to balance out the bigger, more mature bodies they have traditionally have had a multitude of. The bigger bodies on the smaller decks of Trumper and Waverley assist them however with most other grounds significantly bigger, this is an area they need to improve. Similarly, selection consistency is something coach Fosdike would love. With so many changes week to week, trying to get the side to gel must be a challenge.

 

Star attraction

With such a high number of ins and outs year to year and week to week its anyone’s guess! If James Howard rolls round again this year you can expect a highlights package from him alone. Energetic and can take some high flying marks, he certainly enjoys kicking a goal!

 

Phelan Medal fancy

Similarly, you could take a stab at a dozen names and find they are unavailable half the season. Kaizaad Mehta was one of the real shining lights in 2015, polling well and if he can reproduce that form, not only will the Bats be a finals chance, he should be a top 10 finisher too. Josh Maddox was highly regarded internally and is important.

 

Summary

The Bats took a huge step towards that elusive Premier Division finals position last year and 2016 could be the year they finally break the drought. Under 2nd year coach Nic Fosdike, the Bats have a new attitude and commitment which should give them their best season in the top flight. With the usual multitude of inbound transfers in the preseason, you would expect the odd gun amongst them to assist in their finals quest. Key defender Ben Nethersole was a key in last year to shutdown opposition forwards (we note another Nethersole in the transfers to the Bats which would be a bonus if another tall with ability like Ben) while up forward there were a few shining lights including Daniel Breese along with smalls James Howards and Scott Tregoning.

 

As mentioned in Sydney Universities preview, the two clashes between these two sides could well determine the last finals positions so there Rounds 3 and 16 clashes will be pivotal. Just a game and a half separated the two sides at seasons end last year and expect the margin to be tighter this year, however possibly the positions swapped…

 

 

4th – Manly-Warringah GIANTS

 

2015 finishing position – 4th

 

Coach – Leigh Brain

 

Player movement

In : Shaun Steele

Out: Thomas Doig, Brayden Fowler

 

What they need / where they need to improve

With the departure of key forward Brayden Fowler this year, a big target up forward is going to be needed. Jackson Pola-Smith had a breakout season last year playing as Fowlers understudy so more pressure goes on him this year as the main target. Making it more difficult is the move of Sanderson who was solid up forward last year also. It’s a big challenge for the youngster and will need support around him.

 

Star attraction

The last couple of seasons there have been a number of stars but most of these have moved on (most recently leading goal kicker Brayden Fowler) meaning we need to look wider this year. Taking high flying marks in the backline (including last years Mark of the Year), Harrison Koch is a crowd favourite at Weldon and plays a great brand of football. The engine room of James Brain, Anthony Robertson and of course Connor Pettersson are always a pleasure to watch.

 

Phelan Medal fancy

How can you go past last year’s Phelan Medallist in Connor Pettersson? A serial vote getter (finished runner up the previous year), he won’t have too many taking votes from him this year and would be the league favourite to go back-to-back.

 

Summary

After back-to-back premierships in 2013 and 2014, the GIANTS were finally brought back to earth in last year’s finals by St George and the general thinking is that they might be just off the top three this season. They do have fight though and will be one of the few sides capable of being a Grand Final chance. With Fowler moving on as well as a couple of other regular first graders, the depth of the club will be tested at times. Lachlan Kilpatrick returns from the Northern Blues although he will likely play the majority of the season in the NEAFL with Sydney University but coach Brain will be hoping to get a few games from him. With the calibre of Pettersson, Brain and Robertson in particular, along with a number of classy juniors on the up they will be a side no one takes too easily and will certainly win more games than they lose. Give them a sniff and it will be to your detriment.

 

A similar season to 2015 is expected.

 

 

3rd – Pennant Hills Demons

 

2015 finishing position – Premiers

 

Coach – Chris Yard

 

Player movement

In: Jonathan Gourlay

Out: Michael Cantrall

 

What they need / where they need to improve

When you come off a premiership, it’s hard to come up with much that needs improvement. They are a well-rounded side who will only add to their list this year. With Luke Bilbe not expected to play this season, a key forward is probably the one area they need to cover. In saying that, Theo Moraitis (close to Best on Ground in the Grand Final) and Daniel Preen have developed amazingly well and are ready to take up the responsibility.

 

Star attraction

When at his best, Matt Carey is amongst the most exciting players to watch in the league with his lightning speed and raking left foot. Now he has led his side to a premiership, expect the skipper to step it up again this year.

 

Phelan Medal fancy

If Ranga Ediriwickrama can pick up where he left off last year and stay injury free, he will be one of the favourites to claim what would be a well-deserved Phelan medal. He was arguably the best player in last year’s Grand Final victory and has it all when it comes to ability.

 

Summary

After two runner up finishes, 2015 saw the Demons claim a well-deserved flag in a huge upset over red hot favourites East Coast. The side come into this season in as good a shape as ever with a few additions to their squad and minimal losses. The side has more depth than any other club in Sydney with their Reserve Grade side Grand Finalists last year and an abundance of young talent coming through. They have strong leaders who play more for each other than any other side and know their roles. Add to the group former Best and Fairest Matt Thomas who was unavailable last year and things look great with highly regarded names like Dell’aquilla, Carey, Angel, Wright you know that they’ll be there when the whips are cracking. Could a few former stars in Goodall and Shepherd be a chance of returning too? The core of their squad are getting older which might be the only criticism of the side.

 

The Demons are every chance of going back to back in 2016 but will face stiff opposition from East Coast and St George in particular. Finals are a lock and if they can build their momentum at the back end of last year they will be hard to beat.

 

 

2nd – St George Dragons

 

2015 finishing position – 3rd

 

Coach – Terry Mudge

 

Player movement

In: Benjamin Wharton, Karl Merson,

 

Out: Taylor Preece, Andrew Herne

 

What they need / where they need to improve

The past few years the biggest thing the young Dragons needed was experience. This now shouldn’t be an issue with the young crop probably having 60+ senior games to their name combined with the senior players with well over 100. They have the key forward position filled in Nick Ryan who will be a handful with Declan Donohue (if he plays) a handy foil and appear to have added depth to the midfield. While they can kick bog scores, their biggest concern would be in defence where they leaked the third most points of all teams. Terry Mudge will have made this a key focus in the preseason and you’d expect this to be the area they improve in most this year.

 

Star attraction

When you have a former AFL player of the calibre of Dylan Addison in your ranks it’s hard to go past in terms of stars. While he is unlikely to play many, if any games, he brings a wealth of experience to the club in an off field capacity at the very least.

 

Phelan Medal fancy

Blake Guthrie surprisingly didn’t poll all that highly last year but that should change this year and he is a genuine contender for the ultimate individual honour this season.

 

Summary

They have been on the fringe for a number of years without being a real threat but 2016 could well be the year of the Dragon. Quite a number of astute judges have St George as the team to beat and a long overdue flag would not come as a surprise at all. Their young group now have a significant number of games under their belt and they have added significantly to their roster when looking at the transfers. Earl Shaw in the ruck will be dominant, Jesse Mudge has returned from Western Australia, Karl Merson is back in red and white and that’s without mentioning former AFL player Dylan Addison. Jake Brown is a superstar that they probably won’t see too much of this year due to Under 18 state team commitments and Sydney Swans NEAFL matches but is one to keep an eye on. Reigning Best & Fairest Alex Wynn and a likely return from a serious leg injury later in the season by Bryce Addison and the side looks very strong!

 

Terry Mudge will be at the helm for his 6th season with a very settled side could lead them to an elusive flag. They will enter the season under the radar in comparison to East Coast and Pennant Hills but we are expecting the comp to stand up and take notice after the opening two rounds… A very good chance of breaking the recent Preliminary Final hoodoo and a genuine premiership threat.

 

 

1st – East Coast Eagles

 

2015 finishing position – 2nd (minor premiers)

 

Coach – Michael Sankey

 

Player movement

In: Chahrouk, Haini,

 

Out: Robert Badger, William Bradley, Lyndon Hupfeld, Karl Merson

 

What they need / where they need to improve

It isn’t a hard case to argue that they probably don’t really need to improve in any areas from 2015. Clearly the best team in the competition last year, they will need to fill the huge hole that is Trent Stubbs who has moved to South Australia. In saying that, with a star studded midfield including rep player of the year Andrew McConnell, Jack Dimery, Stuart Turner to name but a few they bat very deep!

 

Star attraction

Cult hero Andrew Browning is a player hard not to love. The wild looking ruckmen is loved by his team mates and highly regarded by all opposition players and coaches. Polled well in last year’s Phelan medal and has a huge work rate for a big man.

 

Phelan Medal fancy

With East Coast expected to win the vast majority, if not all home and away games, East Coast as a team will poll more votes than any other but the number of stars could well again see them steal votes from each other as Trent Stubbs experienced last year in his unlucky count. Outside of Stubbs, Browning polled the most votes in 2015 and will be up there again however the versatile Jack Dimery may well top the count and take home the Phelan.

 

Summary

As much as we’d like to predict something controversial, East Coast are the red hot favourites to claim the flag in 2016. They would have been most disappointed with the final quarter fade out in last year’s Grand Final however weren’t helped by a fixture that saw them play just two games in over five weeks. It would be a shock for them not to finish atop the ladder at the conclusion of this home and away season (and every chance of being undefeated) so their challenge will be managing the likely breaks between finals. There is nothing like hard fought competitive football week in week out to keep you up to the mark and that will be a focus this year.

 

The side boasts stars across all lines, so much so that high quality players of the competition such as Blake Anderson, Kieran Emery and even Andrew McConnell sometimes are a second thought for opposition clubs. They would have learnt a significant amount from last year’s disappointing loss to arch-rivals Pennant Hills and get to atone in Round 1 when they face off in a Grand Final rematch.

 

Come seasons end, a comfortable East Coast Eagles premiership is the likely scenario…

 

 

Ladder prediction

1.            East Coast Eagles

2.            St George

3.            Pennant Hills

4.            Manly-Warringah

5.            UTS

6.            Sydney University

7.            North Shore

8.            Western Suburbs

9.            UNSW/ES




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