Back-to-back flags aren't unheard of at Marrrar and with the club celebrating 100 years, coach Shane Lenon wants players to rise to the occasion.
ARRIVALS: Brad Langtry, John Hoey, Zach Walgers, Matt Hort
DEPARTURES: Jordan Matthews, Geoff Spriggs, Chris O'Donnell, Josh Suckling
2017 FINISH: Premiers (and minor premiers)
The Bombers open the home-and-away season against Temora, and will close it against North Wagga. In between, they’ll be reminded of what it means to be the reigning premiers. Of what it’s going to take to rise to the heights of those celebrations again. And of what it is to be a part of history at a club that’s been around for a century.
Marrar’s centenary was a carrot to bring Brad Langtry home and a handy ace up the sleeve in ensuring players would recommit after last year’s success. At the same time, their losses have been limited, while the arrival of players with Riverina League experience, Matt Hort, Zach Walgers and John Hoey, keeps them moving.
The pre-season included losses to Collingullie-Glenfield Park and Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong, suggesting work to do. But Lenon said they’ve been able to look at new faces, and avoid injuries.
The Bombers’ 2017 win was testament to their depth and ability to overcome adversity, and they’ll likely need both again in 2018.
2018 PREDICTION: Runners-Up
- Q&A with Marrar coach Shane Lenon
- Q: How are the Bombers shaping up a couple of days out from the defence?
- A: It's exciting. We've had a pretty good pre-season. We're probably not playing as well as we did last year in the trial games but I'm not too concerned... I'm looking forward to getting into the fair dinkum stuff.
- Q: How do you avoid the so-called 'premiership hangover'?
- A: You need to add a couple of new players to your list, that creates excitement and enthusiasm. If you've got young blokes pushing for a spot, that creates pressure. And you hope blokes are self-motivated and want to keep improving. As a coach, that's your job. You've got to get them to keep improving.
Jake Wooden leads a vastly-changed line-up in his second season at the club but they still hold high hopes.
ARRIVALS: Charlie Boyton, Mitch Haley, Angus McRae, Ben McCalman, Josh Maniscalco, Max Harper
DEPARTURES: Brayden Ambler, Daniel Hespe, Stephen Camp, Sam Jackson, Kane Peeters, Brendan Goesch
2017 FINISH: Runners-Up (second on ladder)
The Kangaroos were only a kick away from a premiership last year but there’s the sense of having to start all over again.
Uncertainty has been one of the only certainties of their off-season. As well as the confirmed departures, they’re resigned to being without forward Matt Harpley and the emerging Colby Poole due to knee reconstructions, while Robbie Drummond and the Reid brothers are unlikely to play, and Tim Mcauley is only a possible addition.
But they do have strong foundations: a grand final-winning under 17 team last year, and the backbone of a strong senior side including mids Sam Jensen and Kieran Shea, defender Charlie Vallance, and Matt Wallis once he overcomes a pre-season hamstring injury.
Coach Jake Wooden admits one of their strengths – their depth in on-ballers – has taken a hit but believes they still have the top liners to match any side, and that they will find the right combinations.
Teens Lachlan Leary and Will Reinhold are potential stars and new forward Mitch Haley and midfielder-forward Charlie Boyton have also pleased the coach.
2018 PREDICTION: Fifth
After an exciting off-season, new coach Pat Noonan has the task of making sure CSU take the next step.
ARRIVALS: Joe Stapleton, Brayden Ambler, Louis Miller, Nick Wright, Will Thorp
DEPARTURES: TBC (clearances have gone in for Tennyson Vance, Alex Reilly and Tom Jeffery to play at home but they are anticipated to be back at the Bushpigs)
2017 FINISH: Seventh
CSU again have a delayed start this season, with the bye first up helping a club which has to start pre-season late.
But with Pat Noonan keen to build on the Bushpigs’ improvements over the last two years, they did get the ball rolling early this year, with a mid-March practice game against Wodonga Saints, and a big win to boot.
They also took on Wagga Tigers in a pre-season hit out. They went down, but it showed the seriousness of their approach at a club which had picked up new assistant coach Brayden Ambler, as well as the big signing of key position player Joe Stapleton, who looks the real deal with NEAFL experience at the Swans. The follow-up arrivals of Louis Miller, Nick Wright and Will Thorp were also important, in adding varied experience to what’s usually a very young list.
Noonan wants the Pigs to play to their strengths, bringing pressure and speed. And they do have height this year. They’re almost certain to improve on last year but, in a very even comp, whether they can improve enough to ride the challenges of the uni calendar, and find the wins to climb into the five is still a question.
2018 PREDICTION: Seventh
It looks like a year of rebuilding for Coleambally under new co-coaches Mitch Carroll and Tom Groves.
ARRIVALS: Joel Crowhurst, Dillan Mcgillivray, Tom Clarke, Jess Spencer
DEPARTURES: Chris Cerato, Michael Griffiths, Shaun Light, James Fallon, Brandon Mathews, Nathan Jones
2017 FINISH: Eighth
Coleambally will head into the season as underdogs, and almost the forgotten team this season, after a quiet off-season.
But after least year petered out in disappointing fashion, co-coaches Mitch Carroll and Tom Groves are hoping the club can inject some pride and improvement into the club.
Carroll, who has been training but at this stage isn’t planning on playing, said Groves will be the on-field leader. He, Graham O’Connell and recruit Joel Crowhurst (ex-Leeton-Whitton) will be their key midfielders.
But the losses include James Fallon, Chris Cerato and Shaun Light, as well as last year’s coach Michael Griffiths. Former league medallist Dean Pound remains an unlikely prospect to play after a shoulder operation at the end of last year and an ongoing knee concern. Brendan Hardy will fill the ruck role.
Carroll said they are looking forward to seeing how promising youngsters Jack Cullen and Chris Hayes fare while Tom Clarke and Jesse Spencer from Griffith show promise. With a tough opening two weeks, the Blues will know where they stand before a double bye.
2018 PREDICTION: Ninth
- Q&A with Coleambally co-coach Mitch Carroll
- Q: How's the feeling at the Blues?
- A: We've lost a few key, senior players but hopefully we can be competitive enough. We'll improve as the year goes on, but the feeling around the group is pretty good.
- Q: Where will your strengths be, do you think?
- A: I think we should have a relatively strong backline, with Tom Morton and Todd Clark. Then Tom Clarke coming across, they're three good running players. We might be short a few talls but young Jack Cullen, we might rely on him up forward. Graham O'Connell has had a big pre-season, doing a lot of extra stuff and he and Tom Groves will be important in the middle for us.
EWK have come along quietly under new coach Matt Hard but still boast a list with a formidable reputation.
ARRIVALS: Nic Curran, Harry Fitzsimmons, Joe Banks
DEPARTURES: Billy Carey, Mitch Castles, Nathan Scott
2017 FINISH: Preliminary Finalists (Fifth on ladder)
The Hawks have flown under the radar a little in the off-season, with Matt Hard going about his business fairly quietly since taking over from Gavin McMahon. He inherits a team that defied expectation to get to the preliminary final last year, after three straight grand final appearances prior to that. While there haven’t been any huge announcements, Nic Curran, Harry Fitzsimmons and Joe Banks are all potential improvers following their move to Gumly.
The Hawks also have some promising players they will be hoping can step up to the mark, and Hard has made no secret that their pre-season preparations have been about trying new combinations.
While there haven’t been too many Hawks headlines, a team that boasts Nick Hull, Ben Absolum and Chris Gordon leading the way, is going to present a formidable challenge.
That said, there are still challenges. Not least of those is the paths to goal, which has been problematic since the departure of Marc Geppert. However, Brocke Argus knows the way, and Hull is a huge headache for defenders when he goes forward, which is always an ace up their sleeve.
2018 PREDICTION: Third
The Rock-Yerong Creek
In their second season under coach Tom Yates, TRYC loom as something of an unknown quantity.
ARRIVALS: Jim Carroll, Ben Farrell, Lachlan Myers, Sam Lucas, Fraser Yates
DEPARTURES: Lachie Hunter, Luke Hillier, Sam Durnan, Ferg Inglis, Andrew Saddler
2017 FINISH: Fifth (Fourth on ladder, out in elimination final)
Losing big man Lachie Hunter in the pre-season threatens to put a savage dent in the The Rock-Yerong Creek’s season, particularly at a club which saw Sam Durnan and Ferg Inglis return to university in Victoria after last season. Then to have Mitch Stephenson tear an ACL in a pre-season game, well, that wasn’t really helpful either for the Pies.
It’s a dangerous business suggesting TRYC – a club with an incredibly consistent record in recent seasons – may not play finals. But those losses – and the departure of Luke Hillier and Andrew Saddler – will put the pressure on their new arrivals, the former Wagga Tigers players Jim Carroll, Ben Farrell, Lachie Myers and Sam Lucas. While Hunter’s departure means they’ll rely heavily on Josh Meiselbach to be available.
Still, coach Tom Yates, has been happy with what he’s seen of their new faces in the pre-season, which included solid efforts against Murray Magpies, Narrandera and Culcairn. The Pies are also hoping to see the benefits of having an under 17s team again, as they look to remain in contention.
2018 PREDICTION: Sixth
Coach Kirk Hamblin says his side won't get swept up in the hype as he heads into his third year at the helm.
ARRIVALS: Lachie Steward, Luke Walsh, Josh Hanlon, Tom Bennetts, James Morris, Ben Alexander, Jarrod Conway, Tyler Bruns, Bill Boyes, Nathan Dowdle
DEPARTURES: Angus McRae, Alex Grozinger, Tariku Fitzgerald-Holmes
2017 FINISH: Fourth (Third on ladder, out in two semis)
The Saints are doing things a little differently this season. Already. A host of well-credentialled players have made their way to McPherson Oval in the off-season, many bringing experience and proven records of success. That – and the flow-on effect of genuine depth, meaning serious competition for spots – mean North Wagga will head into 2018 as favourites.
But they don't need reminding that high expectations won’t win games. The Saints looked like serious contenders in 2016 and then failed to make the finals. Last year, they were pacesetters early. Then later, at least a top-three team. Until finals.
Now, Luke Walsh and Lachie Steward bring leadership support for Kirk Hamblin. Jimmy Morris can cover the concern they’ve had up forward. Josh Hanlon has been handy in the ruck in their practice matches. Midfielder-forward Tom Bennetts also impressed. All of that should help free up their star, Lachie Highfield, give them options with swingman Daniel Jordan, and take the pressure of the other top-tier players in a team that was only lacking in a couple of areas last year. Look out.
2018 PREDICTION: Premiers
- Q&A with North Wagga coach Kirk Hamblin
- Q: How's the preparation been?
- Pre-season's been really good. It's probably been more low-key than in previous years. Before we went pretty hard pretty early then died off later in the season, so it's been a bit different this year... I was stoked with our practice matches (a win against Osborne and a loss to Turvey Park).
- Q: How do you make sure you don't get ahead of yourselves as a team?
- This year, we've got plenty of older heads so it won't be a problem keeping a lid on things. A couple of years ago I thought we had a great list and we didn't even make finals that year. So we're just going into the season without the greatest expectations.
They defied some expectations in 2017 but Mitch Robinson's Jets have their sights set on finals this year.
ARRIVALS: Josh Avis, Roland Finch, Mick Foster, Shannon Charlie, Daniel Benger, Codan Frankel, Kody Whiley, Matt Carroll, Brad McKinnon
DEPARTURES: Sam Fisher, Darcy McDermott, Jayden McLean
2017 FINISH: Sixth
Some of the gloss on an exciting off-season was lost when the Jets confirmed co-captain Sam Fisher wouldn’t be back this season due to work commitments in Canberra. But their recruitment of a couple of young Darwin speedsters, the return of forward Mick Foster, and some intriguing pick-ups from the Northern Riverina League still swings the needle well in their favour when assessing their comings and goings since last year.
A team that could mount a challenge to most teams last year on the back of their run-and-carry, the Jets could yet be one to watch, if they are able to get consistency into their performances, and find avenues to goal.
The lack of a key forward hurt them last year, but Foster’s return is a big help. And if their new arrivals are able to cover for the loss of Fisher in the midfield, and ease the Jets’ reliance on Clear Medallist Mitch Haddrill, they could find themselves with a few options to make their most of their list.
Josh Avis has a strong resume, Alex Rogers can be electric on a half-back flank, and Jets are hoping to see Darwin pair Daniel Benger and Shannon Charlie getting on the outside.
2018 PREDICTION: Fourth
Will Overs returns as coach at a club boosted by a big Canberra signing on top of their returning players.
ARRIVALS: Siale Howe, Sean Ellis, Sean Browning, Darcy McDermott
DEPARTURES: Matt Bernasconi
2017 FINISH: Ninth
The arrival of Sean Ellis was the firecracker Barellan needed to start 2018 with a bang. The gun Canberra midfielder – who had almost come to Wagga Tigers a couple of years ago – was confirmed shortly after Will Overs returned to the coaching role at the club.
Overs says it’s been an encouraging pre-season since, with close to 40 attending training. The recruitment of Sean Browning from Leeton-Whitton came after they’d sought his help organising their fitness preparation. And they’ve also added former Leeton midfielder Siale Howe.
The vastly-improved Two Blues sprang a few surprises last year – not least against TRYC in the second last round – but Overs felt their conditioning let them down. This year, with a solid preparation, they are keen to build on last year’s two wins, when the Canberra arrivals including James McCabe, Will Prowse and Mal Fernie made a big impact.
Ellis slots in for Matt Bernasconi, and impressed in the pre-season hit-out against Molonglo in early March. He should help lift them off the bottom but how far in a level field remains to be seen.
2018 PREDICTION: Eighth