Riverina League season preview

COOLAMON

Coolamon coach Matt Hard

Coolamon have flown nicely under the radar over the off-season.There's a lot to like about the Hoppers in 2017 but forcing their way into the top five is going to be challenge.

  • Coach: Matt Hard
  • Major gains: Michael Dunn, Roy Kantilla, Jack Munkara, Joe Redfern, Mitch Stephenson, Ben Alexander, Ben Fixter, Matt Carroll
  • Major losses: Luke Gerhard, Chase Grintell, Hayden Leary

THERE is a lot to look forward to at Kindra Park in 2017.

The Hoppers had been building nicely before the late addition of Tiwi Bombers recruits Michael Dunn, Roy Kantilla and Jack Munkara topped things off nicely.

Coolamon has kept departures to a minimum, and added plenty of quality. Joe Redfern was an exciting talent as a teenager and has only played at higher levels since then. Mitch Stephenson, Ben Fixter, Matt Carroll and Ben Alexander bring experience to a side that boasts plenty of young talent.

The Hoppers will improve, considerably. They were competitive last year and with their new recruits, will be capable of matching it with the best. 

Whether they can leapfrog any of the top five, most of who have improved again, remains to be seen. One thing is for sure, with recruits like Dunn, Kantilla and Munkara, they will be a team worth watching this year.

Prediction: Sixth

COLLINGULLIE-GLENFIELD PARK

Collingullie-Glenfield Park coach Luke Gestier

Collingullie's two-year reign came to an end with an extra time finals defeat last September but the arrival of a new coach and the return of a star full-forward has the Demons looking good.

  • Coach: Luke Gestier
  • Major gains: Luke Gestier, Marc Geppert, Chris Jackson
  • Major losses: Harry Perryman, Tim Haines, Geoff Spriggs, Brayden Ambler

NEW Collingullie-Glenfield Park captain-coach Luke Gestier has plenty of reasons to be excited about what lies ahead at Crossroads Oval.

Gestier is back in the Riverina League for the first time since 2009 and will lead a Demons’ outfit looking to return to the top of the tree.

Collingullie came good late last year and was widely considered the biggest danger to Wagga Tigers until their shock extra time exit in the first semi-final.

Gestier will join returning champ Marc Geppert in a new-look forward line. It may take some time for it to come together, but they will boast the most dangerous attack in the competition once it’s right.

Throw in the best competition’s best midfielder, Jayden Klemke, and the return of premiership ruckman Chris Jackson and there is a lot to like about the Demons.

The only queries are the first grade depth, and how quickly it all comes together under the new coach.

  • Q&A with coach Luke Gestier
  • Q: How have you found the group since you arrived?
  • Very committed and willing to learn. Their enthusiasm has been fantastic. Obviously I'm in my first year as coach and there is a bit of a honeymoon period but I'm very happy with how committed they are to what I'm trying to bring into the group.
  • Q: What do you expect from the group, results wise?
  • I'm fairly bullish. I've got a lot of belief in the group and what we are capable of. I'll back us in all of the time. It's my first year, so I've got to be realistic too but I'm hoping for a finals finish and to put ourselves in a position to have a tilt.

Prediction: Third

GANMAIN-GRONG GRONG-MATONG

GGGM coach Luke Sicker

GGGM coach Luke Sicker

The off-season departures of some quality players will make life tough at GGGM this season. But while it might mean short-term pain, it paves the way for a rebuild and long-term gain.

  • Coach: Luke Sicker
  • Major gains: Glenn Sypott, Hamish Jannings, Zac Wiencke, Mitch Carroll, Jesse Lander
  • Major losses: James Lawton, Curtis Steele, Adam Cullen, Jordan Bates

The Lions hierarchy stood firm and made some tough decisions over the off-season that may cause some tough times in 2017, but has the future of the club at heart.

James Lawton’s departure will provide the biggest impact, leaving the Lions without the best forward in the competition, while Curtis Steele and Jordan Bates’ run will also be missed.

The departures have forced the Lions’ hand and they will go with an even younger team in 2017. Their youth, combined with a lack of depth, makes for a tough year ahead but it will leave the club in a stronger position down the track.

Jacob Olsson and Josh Hanlon give them the best ruck combination in the competition, while the more games young forward Riley Corbett is available for, the more games GGGM are a chance of winning.

Injuries will have a major influence on the Lions’ finishing position, along with the impact of their five recruits.

Prediction: Eighth 

GRIFFITH

Griffith coach Adrian Pavese

It is exciting times out west. On the back of their first finals appearance in a decade, Griffith have recruited strongly in readiness for an attack on the premiership flag.

  • Coach: Adrian Pavese
  • Major gains: Brent Arho, Luke Shannon, Heath Northey, Ash Verhagen, Richard Malone, Jacob Barrington
  • Major losses: Alex Birch, Nathan Richards

Griffith enter this season as one of the competition’s most exciting teams, with a boom on the Swans given their strong recruitment drive and pre-season trial form.

The arrival of Collingullie premiership forward Brent Arho is a great get. It got the ball rolling for 2017 and provides the Swans with their much-needed biggest key forward signing since Balraj Singh’s short stint.

Griffith have no shortage of weapons and will possess one of the best midfields in the competition with Jordan Iudica, Ben King, Guy Orton and Will Griggs all going through there. Now with Arho up there, along with their resting mids, the Swans will certainly be capable of kicking big scores.

The only question marks surround their key defensive and ruck stocks. The arrival of Ash Verhgan and return of Richard Malone will help down back, while the ruck is a query given the move of teenage ruckman Nathan Richards to Sydney.

A major player.

Prediction: Fourth

LEETON-WHITTON

Leeton-Whitton coach Jade Hodge

The Crows continue to press towards a drought-breaking premiership. The club has added more quality to a list that was only fell four points short of grand final victory.

  • Coach: Jade Hodge
  • Major gains: Daniel Muir, Matt Rainbird, Brad Boots, Mason Dryburgh
  • Major losses: Josh Grant, Mitch Hardie, Tom Morton, Tom Handsaker, Cam Griggs

COME September, it will be 39 years since Leeton’s last premiership success.

The Crows went within four points of a drought-breaking grand final victory last year and have done nothing over the off-season to suggest they won’t be there again when the whips are cracking.

Leeton-Whitton have added two more Tasmanian recruits in Daniel Muir and Matt Rainbird, while Brad Boots will make a welcome return. Josh Grant is a big loss, but we only saw glimpses of his best last year, and the youth of Mitch Hardie, Tom Morton and Tom Handsaker will be missed.

Leeton struggled to match the run of their opponents come the business end last season and Jade Hodge has looked to address that over summer. 

The Crows are certainties to be thereabouts. They have the experience and big bodies required but only time will tell if they possess the depth and leg speed to end their premiership drought.

Prediction: Second

MANGOPLAH-COOKARDINIA UNITED-EASTLAKES

MCUE coach Travis Cohalan

MCUE are yet to get their hands on the Riverina League premiership since their arrival in 1995 but after a few near misses, the Goannas have never been better placed.

  • Coach: Travis Cohalan
  • Major gains: Nathan Byrne, Dylan de Britt, Jordan Foster, Ben Foster
  • Major losses: Dusty Rogers, Stu Carey, Sam McLay

TRAVIS Cohalan finds himself steering himself a pretty exciting ship in 2017.

After a number of close calls in recent years, MCUE are well positioned to break their premiership drought.

The Goannas were the only team to beat Wagga Tigers last season, and bowed out after a below-par effort in the preliminary final.

Since then, MCUE have gone out and picked up exactly what they needed.

Nathan Byrne, Dylan de Britt and Jordan Foster are all recruits of the highest quality and provide the Goannas with the key position stocks they desperately needed.

Harry Collins is a genuine weapon, while the likes of Ryan Price, Isaac Damme and Matt Collins can thrive even more with the arrival of their recruits.

The Goannas have young talent and depth that few can rival. If all goes according to plan at Mangoplah, Cohalan will have his men bound for uncharted waters in September.

  • Q&A with coach Travis Cohalan
  • Q: Can you go all the way in 2017?
  • I'd like to think that we are one of many teams with a genuine chance. I'd say the whole competition has improved on last year. I think there is six or seven genuine premiership contenders and I'd like to think we are one of those but until we play a game, I've got no idea. 
  • Q: Who is your biggest competition?
  • It's hard to single just one out but I definitely think Leeton, Griffith and Collingullie have recruited really well, and you can never write Tigers off. If I had to say one, I'd say Leeton probably.

Prediction: Premier

NARRANDERA

New Narrandera captain-coach Jarred Lane

New Narrandera captain-coach Jarred Lane

A number of premiership players have returned to Narrandera under new captain-coach Jarred Lane. A few quality players have also departed, making the Eagles' task a tough one to make ground on the competition.

  • Coach: Jarred Lane
  • Major gains: Phil Aumann, Reece Hutton, Drew Kenna, Wes Kiley, Joe Grinter
  • Major losses: Lachie Hunter, Tim Sullivan, Brent Rose, Nick O'Brien

NARRANDERA will adopt a fresh approach in 2017 after the departure of coach Tim Sullivan and the promotion of accomplished footballer Jarred Lane to the top job.

Lane has proven a popular choice with his background at a higher level and he has provided a breath of fresh air at the top.

The return of Drew Kenna and Wes Kiley, among others, is massive for a club, who needs all of their locals to be playing at home to be a chance of success.

While Kenna, Kiley, Phil Aumann, Reece Hutton and Joe Grinter will prove quality pick-ups, the loss of Lachie Hunter, particularly, Tim Sullivan and Brent Rose will be felt.

Expect the Eagles to be competitive and, importantly, they should have more depth. But with the rest of the competition all improving, the wins might be few and far between.

Prediction: Ninth

TURVEY PARK

Turvey Park recruit John Hoey

The feeling at Maher Oval is the best it has been in years on the back of a brilliant recruitment drive. The future is bright after two winless seasons.

  • Coach: Mitch Sykes
  • Major gains: Mitch & Jeremy Sykes, Andrew Emery, John Hoey, Truman Carroll, Josh Ashcroft, Matt Bailey, Clint Shields, Kodie O’Malley, Bryce McPherson
  • Major losses: Evan Smith

IT IS a credit to Turvey Park’s committee, players and supporters that finals and the Bulldogs can even be mentioned in the same sentence when looking forward to what may lie ahead this season.

It was just over two years ago when the club was on it’s knees and almost went into recess. Two tough years have followed but the future is bright now at Turvey Park and there is reason for genuine optimism in regards to their 2017 chances.

The appointment of Mitch Sykes as captain-coach has worked a treat as it paved the way for a host of former Turvey Park players to return to the kennel. 

Andrew Emery’s return and the addition of Matt Bailey will strengthen Turvey Park’s defence, while Truman Carroll, Jeremy Sykes, Josh Ashcroft and an injury-free Jack Brooks will form a new-look midfield. They will also have options in attack with a forward line that will boast Clint Shields, John Hoey and Kodie O’Malley.

A finals return is a stretch but expect a brand new Turvey Park in 2017.

Prediction: Seventh

WAGGA TIGERS

Shaun Campbell lifts the premiership cup aloft in September last year.

Shaun Campbell lifts the premiership cup aloft in September last year.

Premiership defences are never easy and Wagga Tigers' task has been made a lot harder with the loss of a plethora of players from their grand final success.

  • Coach: Shaun Campbell
  • Major gains: Nath Dowdle, Simon Hallsworth
  • Major losses: John Anstee, Dale Walker, Jackson Kelly, Shaun Flanigan, Brad Graham, Brady Morton, Jesse Manton

THE world was at Wagga Tigers feet last September when Shaun Campbell led a young Wagga Tigers team to premiership success.

The future was bright, and still can be, but after the departure of seven premiership players, Tigers’ task of going back-to-back has been made a lot more difficult.

Through no fault of their own, Tigers lost a number of key players as they pursued the next challenge in their careers.

You can’t replace the likes of John Anstee and Dale Walker, while the departures of Shaun Flanigan, Jackson Kelly and Brad Graham leave big holes to fill.

It’s easy to forget after their close call on grand final day, but Tigers were clearly the best team in the competition last year, and by a margin. The departures mean they will come back to the pack, but how far they slide is hard to gauge. 

With the chasing pack improving, Campbell really is a genius if he can guide Tigers to back-to-back.

  • Q&A with coach Shaun Campbell
  • Q: Have you got the depth to cover the losses?
  • Yeah I reckon we do, definitely. We've got a heap of kids stepping up into different positions and we should get a few back from rep later in the year  so we've definitely got the quality there.
  • Q: Who are some of the players you expect to step up?
  • Dylan Morton at centre half-back, he'll be really good for us, the same as Harvey Daniher at full-back. Johnny Buchanan will kick another swag of goals and I think Shaun Driscoll will rip it to bits.
  • Q: Can you go back-to-back?
  • Yeah we certainly can, of course. We're going to have to do it a lot harder but we the talent and hunger.

Prediction: Fifth

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop