The Warrnambool and District Football Netball League season kicks off on Saturday, with nine hungry clubs looking to knock Nirranda off its premiership perch.
With all clubs looking to have bolstered their respective lists and some new coaches coming into the fold, season 2023 looms as a tightly-fought competition.
The Standard looks at how each club is placed entering round one.
Ins: Bradley Bull (Warrnambool), Nick Johnstone (Heywood), Dylan Chapman (Port Fairy), Kane Brumley (Russells Creek), Brad Williams (Kolora-Noorat)
Outs: Rhys Buck (Terang Mortlake); Harry Searle (Panmure); Joby Baker (Dennington); Lachie Lusher; Ben Deluca
Players to watch: Cats mentor Tim Nowell expects boom recruit Brad Bull to add significant leadership to the football club, while also highlighting emerging gun Lachlan Read as an "in and under bull" who will take his footy to the next level, while Flynn Gleeson has impressed in practice matches. Expect big seasons from gun key forward Robbie Hare and reigning best and fairest winner Bradley Edge who has "put on size" to his frame.
Coach's comment: "Everyone wants to step up, everyone wants a little bit more success this year and you can sort of feel that amongst the group. We want to win more games than we did last year and there's that belief in the group." - Tim Nowell
Prediction: Seventh. Allansford showed glimpses of its unquestionable talent in 2022 despite winning just four games and enters the season with the expectation a push for finals is in the frame. The sides who finished above them have for the most part improved their lists so the Cats will need to be sharp from the outset. One thing Nowell has drilled into his players is belief, which is a powerful component in team sport which can drive players and clubs to success. A strong and stable core group, combined with a sprinkling of exciting kids should have the Cats clinch more wins this season and push hard for a top-five spot.
Ins: Tyler Duynhoven (Hawkesdale-Macarthur), Leigh McKane (Russells Creek), Macauley Clark (Russells Creek), Rory Campbell-Gavin (Merrivale), Josh Keen, Joe Dwyer, Will Fogarty (Warrnambool); Jake Hamilton (Port Fairy); Joby Baker (Allansford); Nicholas Alexandrou (Westerns); Brandon Barton (Warrnambool); Joe Douglas (Old Collegians)
Outs: Zeb McKenna (Port Fairy); Sam Lee (Port Fairy); Reggie Barling (Merrivale); Josh Stapleton (retired); Casey Simms (WA)
Players to watch: Under new coach Leigh Anderson, youth will get their fair share of opportunities and the Dogs will be looking for them to take the next step alongside a stable senior core, but he identified key defender Josh Keen as an impressive "marking player" primed for a strong season in the backline.
Coach's comment: "We have identified already that we have to be a lot fitter as a club. I will be pretty hard as a coach but fair. We need to get a lot fitter and with that our skills will improve." - Leigh Anderson
Prediction: Eighth. Expect a different looking Dennington outfit in season 2023 as the clubs look the future under highly-rated new coach Leigh 'Hungry' Anderson, with youth set to be given opportunities and a bundle of new recruits in the mix. The group is a bit hard to place and will be looking for more competitiveness and consistency across the four quarters and against the better sides. Overall improvement and unearthing new players will be the focus, with the hope it will result in more wins than last season.
Ins: Charlie Scanlon (Latrobe); Henry Kenna; Jarrod Evans (Camperdown); Ben Moloney (St Mary's); Sam Uwland (Woorndoo-Mortlake); Ed Lee (University)
Outs: Luke McConnell (Terang Mortlake); Ben Reid (Terang Mortlake), Brad Williams (Allansford)
Players to watch: Coach Nick Bourke said he was excited by some of the premiership under 18 talent coming through, with Fred Beasley, Caleb Kavanagh, Jacan Brooks and Darcy Vick in particularly expected to be given plenty of senior opportunities after looking "good in patches" across pre-season matches against strong opponents. Beasley was a senior regular last season and would "take another step".
Coach's comment: "I feel like we're going to be a lot younger this year so our ball movement and running patterns, we've put a real emphasis on that. The good sides like Merrivale, Panmure and Nirranda use the ball really well and they use the wide open space. It's been a really good pre-season from our group." - Nick Bourke
Prediction: Runners-up. While there has been a bit of a changing of the guard with the loss of a few players and some handy additions, the Power once again loom as a premiership threat. The most exciting part about the list, according to Bourke, is the crop of kids coming through who have come off an under 18 premiership and are ready-made senior players. Recruits Charlie Scanlon, Jarrod Evans and Ben Moloney are major additions while expect a big season from the coach himself who said he was feeling fit and firing ahead of round one.
Ins: Jalen Porter (North Warrnambool); Tate Porter (North Warrnambool); Jaxon Madden (Koroit); Sam Gleeson (Diamond Creek); Corey Britton; Reggie Barling (Dennington), Eli Barker (Old Collegians); Jackson Johnson (North Warrnambool); Dylan Weir (South Warrnambool)
Outs: Rory Campbell-Gavin (Dennington); Blair McCutcheon (NT)
Players to watch: Tigers coach Josh Sobey says Jackson Johnson has some "speed" and as a returning player "adds a lot and is exciting". Angus Campbell has "grown tremendously" and is primed for a big season while recruits Tate and Jalen Porter will be quality additions to the squad alongside former South Warrnambool key forward Dylan Weir who adds height and versatility to the forward mix.
Coach's comment: "We haven't adjusted too much, just grown on our strengths. We'll have to fine-tune some areas in different aspects of the game but the philosophies and methods are similar. We feel a bit fitter than previous years. As a collective, it's the fittest we've been for a while. I'm excited to see that and hopefully we'll pressure some teams. We feel we've also gained more midfield depth." - Josh Sobey
Prediction: Fourth. The expectation on the Tigers this year will certainly increase after a successful season in 2022 which saw the club play finals. The loss of reigning Esam medal winner Blair McCutcheon does leave a gaping hole but the list looks healthy and with added depth and some terrific recruiting, particularly out of Hampden league clubs, the Tigers are primed to improve once again and potentially push high up the table after working on their ability to run out games better, which will be vital come finals time. The midfield looks strong and the forward line has an array of options so expect the Tigers to look to get the ball in quick and be a high-scoring team.
Ins: Isaac Stephens (Camperdown); Josh Irving (Warrnambool); Braden Poole (Simpson)
Outs: Ash Rosolin (Cobden); Nick Couch (retired); Scott Lenehan; Ethan Harvey-Cleary (Hawthorn AFC)
Players to watch: Dylan Philp will be primed for a big season, according to new coach and 2022 premiership teammate Nick Couch this year, while gun recruit Isaac Stephens will play forward and has impressed on the track and be "hard to match-up on" in what is looking like a dynamic forward line once again.
Coach's comment: "I am not going to change anything from last year game style-wise, I might tweak it a little bit but the boys are familiar with how it all runs. Keeping it enjoyable as well will be the key." - Nick Couch
Prediction: Third. The premiership winning Nirranda team will look slightly different this season under new coach Nick Couch, who will shift from on the field to behind the whiteboard but don't expect a drop off from the Blues. Couch will also benefit from former Kolora-Noorat premiership player Luke Madden jumping on-board as a non-playing assistant. Three strong recruits help offset the losses of Couch and midfielder Ethan Harvey-Cleary in particular, while the stable core remains, making them a threat to go back-to-back. While depth will be tested early with unavailability set to provide opportunities the Blues will be a slow build and look to hit their straps at the right time of the year.
Ins: Jackson Creed (Redan), Josh Lucas (South Warrnambool)
Outs: Mitch Riddell (Natimuk); Eli Barker (Merrivale)
Players to watch: Harry White will go another level this season according to coach Ben van de Camp and has developed a lot of confidence, while recruit Josh Lucas' "capacity to go forward and kick goals" will be a major asset for the Warriors who are looking for more firepower forward of centre.
Coach's comment: "We haven't strayed too much from what we started last year, being a good kicking side and that has been a focus again this summer. We made improvements over summer and we'll keep working on that. The core group has spent a lot of time kicking. It's been a consolidation so the next factor is how we turn that into forward entries and kicking winning scores." - Ben van de Camp
Prediction: Ninth. Expect the Warriors to once again be in a development phase as they continue to build under senior coach Ben van de Camp and build a list towards success in coming years. A couple of strong senior names have departed the club but the Warriors are going to back in their core group and kids to try and remain as competitive as possible. The team for the large part won't be overly tall so the emphasis will be on quick ball movement and cleaner entries into the forward fifty.
Ins: Zac Leddon (Monash Blues), Darcy Bourke (North Warrnambool Eagles U18.5s), Harry Searle (Allansford), Wil Fleming (Warrnambool); Rylan Ratley, Damon Moloney
Outs: Tom Mahony (Cobden); Paddy Mahony (Irrewarra-Beeac); Brad Cook (overseas), Liam Bishop (overseas); Daniel Roache (retired)
Players to watch: Jacob Moloney has been praised for his leadership skills and coach Chris Bant expects the first-year skipper to rise to another level when he returns from injury. Zeke Reeves is another impressive footballer and is expected to "take a big step" after a strong pre-season.
Coach's comment: "The method we have employed, definitely last year, we were getting better and better at our game plan. Hopefully we can take more strides to get better again." - Chris Bant
Prediction: Premiers. The Bulldogs will have learnt plenty from last season's runners-up finish and will be fueled by the hunger and disappointment from the grand final loss to a powerful Nirranda unit. A few handy players come out of the team but depth is at coach Chris Bant's disposal with some new recruits and players underneath expected to push hard for spots. But with a stable core group and experience on their side, the Bulldogs will once again be a force this season.
Ins: Dakin Morris (Bungaree); Jordan Edwards (Belmont); Lachlan Edwards (Belmont); Troy Lovett (Heywood); Josh Brown (South Rovers); Seamus Brady (Koroit)
Outs: Dylan Gunning (Port Fairy); Dan Nicholson (South Warrnambool); Leigh McKane (Dennington); Xavier McCartney (Hawkesdale-Macarthur)
Players to watch: Taylem Wason is primed for a big season according to coach Dylan Herbertson, while recruit Dakin Morris is "impressive and one to watch". Herbertson also identified regular guns Jyran Chatfield and Blake Rudland-Castles as players who can elevate their games further.
Coach's comment: "The boys got a taste of senior finals experience (last season) which a lot of them hadn't had. It has spurred them on to get that again and improve on last year's efforts. It was promising to climb back up the ladder, but we want to keep going and the group's really embraced that." - co-coach Dylan Herbertson
Prediction: Sixth. Creek played some outstanding football last season and was rewarded with a finals position, something co-coaches Dylan Herbertson and Danny Chatfield will be hoping to emulate again, albeit with some changes to the playing list. The top-end once again is as strong as any team in the competition but a few losses do hurt, particularly Daniel Nicholson to Hampden league outfit South Warrnambool. Finals will once again be on the agenda but clubs have improved around them.
Ins: Ryan Hehir (Gordon); Brent Fedley (Allansford)
Outs: Nathan Murphy (not playing); Aaron Seabrook (Hawkesdale-Macarthur); Eamon Dowd; Jack Dowd (Warrnambool)
Players to watch: Damon Dews has impressed on the track over the summer according to new coach Tim Condon, while big man Jake Morton will start "forward-ruck" and play a big role. The club is excited by Beau Turland in the midfield while Ben Oates is another player "looking fit" on the track.
Coach's comment: "Most people are keen to get going, we want to play fast but we want to stay composed with the ball when we need to. We've focused on our ground balls a lot and we'll make sure we are unpredictable at times and try to open up the opposition." - Tim Condon
Prediction: Fifth. The Rovers, under new coach Tim Condon are a fascinating side to place with little movement in or out from the list built by outgoing coach Adam Matheson. The Rovers were ultra-competitive last season and looked at times like they could push into the top-five before narrowly missing out, so the building blocks are in place for a tilt at September action. The core group remains stable which is important heading into the season with only a few losses to the list. The reserves made the grand final last season so depth isn't an issue, so expect the Rovers to be right in the thick of it as they seek a return to finals.
Ins: Ben Harding (Simpson), Lyndon Alsop, Oliver Stansfield, Eddie Gaut , Darcy Tribe, Harry Whiting, Rangi Vickers, Adrian Jilich, Lewis Johnston
Outs: Jordan Fowler (Cobden)
Players to watch: After only a handful of games last season, coach Marcus Hickey expects Tom Marshalsea to be a strong player after an "outstanding pre-season" while Sam Newey returns from a horror run with injuries and is "ready to fire as one of the best defenders in the competition".
Coach's comment: "We will continue to use this year as a development year with our young squad, and blood as many kids as we can. But saying that we will be far more competitive than last year and look to test ourselves against the best." - Marcus Hickey
Prediction: Tenth. There is plenty of positive signs down at Timboon Demons on and off-field as it looks to continue building its list, become more competitive and bring kids through and while season 2023 will likely be another season of development, pinching a few more wins will be the goal for co-coaches Ben Newey and Marcus Hickey. Recruit Ben Harding is a good footballer and will be a strong addition but expect the Demons to be young as they bring through some under 18 graduates. Expect the Demons to trouble some teams on their day, but bridging the gap between their best and worst will be a huge focus for the club.
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