Sydney AFL's Division Two preview for 2015 season
Year on year we talk about the evenness of the Men’s Division Two competition. 2015 looks to be no different and if anything looks more even on paper than ever before meaning every single match could determine finals positions.
It has been an unsettled off season and just eight teams will contest the Division Two competition in 2015 following the withdrawal of last years cellar dwellers UNSW/ES and UTS. There are now no easy beats and percentage could play a huge role in determining finals.
Other changes to the competition include last seasons 8th place East Coast Eagles moving down to Division Three while Penrith and Randwick City join the competition. Penrith join Division Two after unluckily being relegated from Division One while Randwick have been promoted following a dominant premiership year in Division Three. Clubs will be glad to see the last of back-to-back Premiers, Sydney University who certainly earned their promotion to Division One and will be more than competitive in that grade.
The competition actually begins in earnest this weekend with Moorebank hosting new boys Randwick City at Rosedale Oval to officially open the 2015 BLK AFL Sydney season.
It has been a busy off season for transfers to and from senior teams in Division Two with the biggest players in this being Randwick City and Camden. Randwick City landed the coup of the quieter months when they signed former AFL and more recently NEAFL player Marc Dragicevic as player-coach for the year. His football resume is extensive and will be the player to watch in the competition. He will be closely guarded week in week out as opposition clubs try to nullify his impact. Dragicevic’s appointment has seen a significant number of other transfers into the Saints and they will be the real unknown quantity of the competition. Internally they are confident of putting up a good show and judging by the successful first season in Division Two of Blacktown last year who they had matched it with in 2013, they should be more than competitive.
Camden also claimed a coaching coup themselves with the significant signing of AFL Sydney Under 23’s Representative coach and former Giants academy coach in Chris Hughes late last year. His appointment is a significant one for the club and this has immediately led to an influx of players with Premier Division experience headlined by youngsters Josh Van Luenen and James Bottin-Noonan. The recent signing of former Moorebank Best and Fairest Blake Pearce is another big shot in the arm for the Cats. After a strong early part of 2014, the side fell away late and bowed out of the finals with hardly a whimper and avoiding this again will be a big focus for Hughes and his troops this season. Camden will be very bullish about their chances in 2015 and with the added depth to their roster will certainly be one of the teams to beat this year. A fully fit Josiah Ayling who spent the back half of the season on the sidelines will be a big boost for the side. They are a club on the rise and there is a great vibe about the club. Look out!
Coming into season 2014, North Shore were predicted to be one of the teams to beat having come down from Division One where they were competitive however would have been most disappointed with there 6 win, 7th place finish. A big part of this though was due to their enormous injury toll in Premier Division which saw that sides results also dip. Being one of just three reserve grade sides in this competition, availability in their higher grade will always play a big role in their season. 2015 is a new year however and North Shore really are the unknown quantity of this competition. You could expect them to be hard to beat early in the season but how they fare in the back half will determine where they finish. There hasn’t been too much word on the street about their senior side’s playing list so it is very much a wait and see proposition. The prediction panel have them finishing at the bottom of the ladder but that is more a sign of the extremely even competition (someone has to be there...). A finish at the other end of the ladder and egg on the tipsters faces is not out of the question!
Moorebank open their account this weekend against new boys Randwick City with high expectations for the season ahead. Coming home like a steam train at the end of 2014, Moorebank were unlucky not to make finals and there would have been a few relieved sides above them when they fell agonisingly short. They were pretty close to the form team leading into September and it took a last gasp win from eventual Premiers Sydney University in the last game of the season to knock them out of finals contention. The likely loss of former Best and Fairest Blake Pearce as well as Sam Young to Camden will hurt them in the clinches but have offset that with a large number of inbound transfers. Blake Parker will be a vital component in the Magpies chances while a number of the Under 19 runners-up side transitioning into senior football will add depth to an already strong side. They do have a new coach but there should be no bumps with that change with a smooth succession taking place. With strong ambitions to rise through the AFL Sydney ranks, Moorebank are capable of having a big season.
2014 saw Blacktown enter Division Two after a dominant Division Three premiership season the year prior. Expectations were that they would be competitive but probably not likely to trouble the top sides. A month into the season this prediction looked sound as the Magic struggled to adapt to the quicker pace of the game. Soon after though it all clicked for Blacktown and they stormed home to finish the home and away season before claiming an unlikely Grand Final position where they ultimately went down to Sydney University. You wouldn’t expect a slow start this year for the Magic and they will be one of the teams to beat from the outset. Not a huge player so far in the off season transfers, Blacktown will rely on last year’s core group to push them one win further than last season. Well drilled by player-coach and last years leading goal kicker Ash Moeller (61 goals), the side have depth around the park and will only continue to improve.
Western Suburbs have been extremely consistent in Division Two since their move there two seasons ago. Another reserve grade side who rely heavily on consistency from the Premier Division numbers, the Magpies have failed to claim the big wins they required in finals. The side is a very even bunch without any standout stars, but their never say die attitude ensures they remain one of the teams to beat. The side should benefit from a number of last years top age Under 19 Premiership side moving to senior football which bodes well for this year and the future. With a likely strong Premier Division outfit above them, finals footy should be in reach for the Magpies in 2015.
The final reserve grade side in the Division Two competition is Manly-Warringah. After falling just short in 2013, the Giants bowed out in the Preliminary Final last year to runners up Blacktown. Above them, the Premier Division side, while losing a couple of key players have again recruited well meaning great depth for the Reserves. The club look to have added significant depth to their numbers 15-35 on their list which should ensure they again are real players come finals time. A quick scan through their list indicates a team capable of emulating the feats of their senior side over the past four years. Another positive for the club is the strength of their juniors coming through. After promotion to Under 19’s Division One competition last season, the Giants made a preliminary final so with a dozen or more players now moving to senior football the club is in good shape. The enigma Matt Rawle shouldered much of the goal kicking responsibility last year and will need more support in 2015. No doubt the Giants will be there when the whips are cracking in September.
Last, and certainly not least are the Penrith Rams who join the competition after relegation from Division One at the end of last season. While the side did finish at the bottom of the ladder in that competition, when you look into the statistics, their season was alot better than it first appears. They only won the single game for the season but lost 11 of their matches by 20 points or less and finished with a percentage of over 70%! Their coach Barry Denton moves into his second season so will have a great understanding of his playing squad now. To add to their strong side from last season headlined by Joshua Shephard, the Rams have recruited a number of very high quality players in particular former NEAFL player Nick Perry (local junior) and key position player Phillip Aumann who has come across from the Riverina Football League. These key additions will see them as a very hard team to beat. While the gap between Division Two and Division One has reduced significantly in recent years, our prediction before a ball is kicked in anger is that the Rams will be the team to beat. They have firm ambitions to return to Division One (as do most clubs mind you) and on paper have the list to achieve this.
A stated in the opening line, the Division Two comp year on year happens to be the most even and toughest to gauge. Every single game this year will be vital for sides as one small slip up could be the difference between 5th and 6th to 8th.
Sanders Medal prediction: Marc Dragicevic (Randwick City Saints) – not really going out on a limb here, Dragicevic has clearly the best resume in the competition and should he string enough games together he will be hard to hold out. You would expect the likes of Nick Perry (Penrith Rams) and Camden favourite Josiah Ayling to also poll well.
1st – Penrith
2nd – Blacktown
3rd – Manly-Warringah
4th – Camden
5th – Western Suburbs
6th – Randwick City
7th – Moorebank
8th – North Shore