Gippsland Times | A look ahead to the upcoming Gippsland Football Netball League.
Coach: Wayne Butcher; 2016: premier (15 wins, five losses, one draw).
In: Darren Sheen (Narre Warren), Thomas Love (Woodside), Sam Bedgood (Boisdale-Briagolong), Ryan Gellie (Boisdale-Briagolong); out: Michael Coleman (Heyfield), Ben Coleman (Heyfield), Jacob Heavyside (Strathfieldsaye), Hamish Nettleton (Orbost-Snowy Rovers), Kade Renooy (Port Melbourne, VFL).
First three rounds: Sale (h), Bairnsdale (a), Morwell (h).
MAFFRA is keeping expectations lower than many would think for a team defending its Gippsland League premiership.
Four-time premiership coach Wayne Butcher remains at the helm for the senior team for a fourth consecutive season.
The Eagles were the only team to defeat minor premier Leongatha last year. Both victories came when it mattered most, the second semi-final and the grand final.
Eagles director of football George Foggo said keeping the team together was a key in last year's premiership success.
"When we went into the finals, we were fortunate enough to hold the same 21 (players)," he said.
With the Eagles expecting some of their younger players who have been part of their strong reserves team to push for senior selection, Foggo didn't want expectations for the season to be too high.
"If we can be fourth or fifth - we can't expect more than that with the four or five younger blokes we have," he said.
The Eagles will be missing midfielders Michael Coleman (to Heyfield), David Adams (returning to Melbourne) and Patrick Jones, who injured his knee during the off-season.
Maffra's hopes will boosted by the return of full forward Darren Sheen. In his three previous seasons with the Eagles, Sheen kicked 304 goals, including two 100-plus seasons.
While Sheen's presence in the forward line will help the side, Foggo said the Eagles would still be looking for the younger players to step-up.
"We're looking at the likes of Sean Day and Brandon Rimmington, players now in their third season out of the thirds. Guys we've nurtured in the twos for the last two years," he said.
With Trent Knobel turning 38 this year, Foggo said young talls like Bill Pleming could step-up to shoulder some of the ruck responsibilities.
"We're looking for the younger reserves to step-up and play a full season," he said.
"It is time for them to start carrying the load."
Sam Pleming will still provide leadership in defence, but can also swing forward to provide a tall marking option.
Danny Butcher's efforts in the midfield were rewarded with the club best-and-fairest award and selection in the league team of the year alongside fellow Eagles Sam Pleming and Mitchell Bennett, who kicked 51 goals in his first season at Maffra.
Coach: Shane Fyfe; 2016: sixth (eight wins, 10 losses).
In: Tye Morrison (Sale City), Adam Wallace (Bairnsdale); out: Ben Dessent (Sunshine), Jason Garrett (Heyfield), Josh Kennedy (Woodside).
First three rounds: Maffra (a), Drouin (h), Traralgon (h).
SALE is looking to take last season's strong finish into the beginning of its 2017 Gippsland League campaign.
The Magpies finished 2016 in sixth place, just two points outside the finals. It was the first time they missed the finals since 2010.
The Magpies finished the season with a flurry, winning their last four matches. However, those victories came against other teams which did not make the finals.
Other positives to come from the season were getting within a point of eventual premier Maffra and defeating preliminary finalist Traralgon.
Injuries tested the Magpies' depth mid-season, as they lost seven consecutive matches. This forced the Magpies to play catch-up, with their strong finish not quite enough to get them into the top five.
With a return to finals the aim, second year coach Shane Fyfe said last year's finish had provided confidence during the pre-season.
"Look at last year, it gave us a good stepping stone, the fact we understand how we wanted to move the footy," Fyfe said.
"We dropped a few games we probably should have won. Poor form and injury cost us."
While the Magpies have largely retained their 2016 list, they were dealt a blow during the off-season, when key defender Andrew Quirk injured his knee playing basketball. Instead of leading the Magpies' defence on the field, Quirk will take on a back line coaching role.
"He'll be sadly missed. It's one of those things you don't plan to happen," Fyfe said.
"He's a bloke you can always depend on. It will give the next person a chance."
One of the younger players Fyfe said who could get an opportunity in defence is Mitch Thacker, who is stepping up from the under 18s.
Work and travel commitments have put question marks over the availability of the Magpies' 2016 leading goal kicker John Gooch.
Sale's finals hopes will be tested early, with four of its first five matches against last year's finalists, including a round one clash against Maffra.
Coach: Stuart Anderson; 2016: 10th (four wins, 14 losses).
In: Russell Cowan (Mount Evelyn), Brodie Holland (Broadford), Nathan Dennison (Wy Yung), Shane Jamieson (Paynesville), Rhys Gardener (East Sunbury), Jaryd Gilroy (Gormandale); out: James Gibbs (Lakes Entrance), Jesse Guarnaccia (Lakes Entrance), Tom Hams (Inverloch-Kongwak), Alex Kater (North Footscray), Cameron McPhan (Lindenow), Daniel Perrin (Wy Yung), Link Robinson (Tullarmarine), Wes Russell (Orbost-Snowy Rovers), Brett Waddell (Orbost-Snowy Rovers), Adam Wallace (Sale), Matthew Corbett (Tullarmarine), Ethan East (Monash Blues, VAFA), Hayden Edwards (Redan).
First three rounds: Leongatha (a), Maffra (h), Warragul (h).
SECOND year Bairnsdale coach Stuart Anderson will have another former AFL player in his squad this season.
While former Essendon and Brisbane player Damien Cupido appears unlikely to play for them despite signing a contract, the Redlegs have recruited former Collingwood and Fremantle onballer Brodie Holland.
Adding to the depth in the list will be Nathan Dennison and Shane Jamieson, who have been among the best players in the East Gippsland league in recent seasons.
Russell Cowan, a consistent performer in the strong Yarra Ranges league, will also add to the Redlegs' midfield stocks.
The Redlegs have lost some experience, with former captain and key forward James Gibbs to coach Lakes Entrance. While Gibbs was out of the team injured last season, his absence was felt on the scoreboard.
Ruckman Wes Russell has also left the Redlegs for the East Gippsland league, while club best-and-fairest Tom Hams has joined Inverloch-Kongwak in the new West Gippsland competition.
Coach: Bob McCallum; 2016: fourth (nine wins, 10 losses, one draw).
In: Hayden Lazos (Cranbourne), Tom Barr (overseas); out: Ben Hughes (Red Hill), Steven Ballingall (Red Hill), Luke Duffy (East Malvern), Broderick Fraser (East Malvern), Jayden Fairlie (East Malvern), Todd Beck (Nar Nar Goon), Jordan Kingi (Casey, VFL), Daniel Nicholls (Mordialloc), Josh Seri (Warragul Industrials), Luke O'Brien (Warragul Industrials), Brad Virgona (Oakleigh), Keegan Bott (Ellinbank), Jake Harper (Ellinbank), Jared Doyle (Kew, VAFA), Jordan Wyatt (Yarragon).
First three rounds: Morwell (a), Sale (a), Wonthaggi (h).
WITH a lack of tall key position players, quick ball movement will be a key to Drouin's chances.
The Hawks improved greatly last season finishing fourth but a further move up the ladder has been hampered by the loss of key players.
However, the addition of Hayden Lazos, formerly of Cranbourne and the Eastern Ranges, will add size and height and provide some valuable back-up for coach and ruckman Bob McCallum.
McCallum, Darcy Irwin and David Olsen will be among Drouin's key players, but further improvement can be expected from its younger brigade.
Coach: Beau Vernon; 2016: runner-up (18 wins, two losses, one draw).
In: Ben Doran (DWWWW), Josh Schelling (Stony Creek), Cameron Stone (Stony Creek), James Monaghan (Stony Creek), Joel Norton (Tarwin), Ryan Olden (MDU); out: Nick Argento (Monash Blues, VAFA), Lochlan Du Mont (Wonthaggi), Shem Hawking (Inverloch-Kongwak), Kaj Patterson (South Adelaide, SANFL).
First three rounds: Bairnsdale (h), Wonthaggi (a), Moe (h).
CAN Leongatha break its run of grand final defeats?
The Parrots were minor premiers the past two seasons, but fell short on both grand final days. This has caused coach Beau Vernon to make slight adjustments.
Foot speed and ball handling have been key to their success, but injuries at the end of the season proved to be detrimental.
Joel Sinclair missed last year's grand final loss to Maffra, and will boost the Parrots' defence.
Big things are expected from ruckman Ben Willis, while Chris Dunne is coming off a 70-goal season.
Coach: James Blaser; 2016: eighth (six wins, 12 losses).
In: Ash Dugan (Newborough), Dylan Farrell (Buln Buln); out: Dylan Bentley (Yallourn-Yallourn North), Anthony Young (Yallourn-Yallourn North), Sam Cougle (Garfield), Mark Engley (Waverley Blues).
First three rounds: Warragul (a), Traralgon (h), Leongatha (a).
RUNNING out matches will be a focus for Moe this season.
While the Lions finished 2016 in eighth place, untimely losses and final term fade-outs cost James Blaser's men a chance of making the finals.
Injuries didn't help the Lions' cause. Only three players took to the park for all 18 matches last season.
The Lions have recruited 202 centimetre ruckman Dylan Farrell, who can also play forward or back.
Moe's improvement in the juniors in recent years should begin to pay dividends in the seniors this year.
Coach: Joel Soutar; 2016: ninth (four wins, 13 losses, one draw).
In: Isaac Abas (Mirboo North), Tristan Salerno (Mirboo North), Julian Blackford (Yinnar), Luke Van Rooy (Yinnar), Jayden Embry (Yinnar), Kane Grinstead-Jones (Yinnar), Daniel Schneider (Yinnar), Ricky Van Rooy (Yinnar), Hayden Britten (Glengarry), Rob Michaelides (Woodside), Stephen Lambert (Woodside), Brandon McDonald (Rosedale), Thomas Wilson (Newborough); out: Boyd Bailey (Redland, NEAFL), Brandon Bailey (Yallourn-Yallourn North), Tom Crosby (Woodside).
First three rounds: Drouin (a), Warragul (h), Maffra (a).
MORWELL has turned to experience in its bid to return to the finals.
Mid Gippsland grand final best-on-ground Tom Wilson has joined the Tigers to share assistant coach duties with Mannon Johnston, who is returning after a season away.
Traralgon premiership player Hayden Britten will strengthen the midfield alongside Wilson and Rob Michaelides, who is back from Woodside. They will add to experienced players already at the club, such as Tim Ryan, Ryan Tatterson and coach and best-and-fairest Joel Soutar.
Tall forward Ryan Hearn is set to stay on full-time after finishing with Gippsland Power.
Finishing ninth with four wins and a draw, Morwell's season was inconsistent, highlighted by a one-point victory over Traralgon on Queen's Birthday.
Coach: Mark Collison; 2016: third (13 wins, eight losses).
In: Jay Neagle (TTU), Ajith Achiek (Rosedale), Jordan Sandy (Gormandale), Ryan Burns (Gormandale); out: Michael Geary (Yinnar), Danny Campbell (Yinnar), Matthew Lewellin (Yinnar), Dean Brooks (Glengarry), Jordan Symons (Glengarry).
First three rounds: Wonthaggi (h), Moe (a), Sale (a).
FORMER Essendon player and TTU coach Jay Neagle will form part of a new-look Traralgon forward line.
Neagle will join fellow recruit Jordan Sandy to provide height in attack. The Maroons have fielded smaller sides in recent seasons.
While strengthening its forward line, defence has been a focus for coach Mark Collison. The Maroons
Defender Ryan Burns comes into the side from Gormandale, while Tate Marsh will have a more permanent presence after three years in the Gippsland Power system.
The involvement of Jason Winderlich, another former Essendon player, will depend on his niggling back, which affected his AFL career.
Coach: Stephen Kidd; 2016: fifth (nine wins, 10 losses).
In: Tom Muir (Casey, VFL), Michael Lynn (Warragul Industrials), Scott Kelly (Longwarry), Jedd Serong (Longwarry); out: Chris Carey (Port Melbourne, VFL), Peter Davine (University Blues, VAFA), Matthew Mosley (Hill End).
First three rounds: Moe (h), Morwell (a), Bairnsdale (a).
WARRAGUL was last season's big improver, having finished fifth after claiming the wooden spoon in 2015. Can that improvement continue?
There will be minimal changes to the youthful line-up this year, which will be boosted by gaining quality player Tom Muir from VFL club Casey, Nic Mulqueen's full availability after finishing with Gippsland Power, the return of Michael Lynn from Warragul Industrials and Hayden Maric, fit after missing most of last year due to injury.
The only downside for Stephen Kidd's side appears to be the likely limited availability of ruckman Chris Carey, who will play with VFL club Port Melbourne.
Any midfield which has the players who finished in the top two of last year's league best-and-fairest, Brad Sclazo and Nath Paredes, cannot be underestimated.
Brayden Fowler is expected to again prove to be a handful for opposing defenders.
Coach: Stuart Gilmour; 2016: seventh (eight wins, 10 losses).
In: Lochlan Du Mont (Leongatha), Jesse Smith (Caulfield Grammarians, VAFA), Logan West (Dalyston); out: Thomas Motlop (NT Thunder), Braeden McLean (NT Thunder), Simon Bates (NT Thunder), Joe Magro (Mulwala).
First three rounds: Traralgon (a), Leongatha (h), Drouin (a).
WONTHAGGI will be looking to rebound from a disappointing 2016, when it finished seventh.
The like of midfielder Curtis Gilmour, half-back Pat Ryan and defensive forward Thomas Davey have shown signs during pre-season they are ready to build on encouraging 2016 campaigns.
The arrival of 200cm Jesse Smith should help the Power's shortage of ruckmen. Toma Huther is expected to be sidelined until mid-season as he recovers from a knee reconstruction.
Recruiting has been a priority, with Power coach Stuart Gilmour instead looking to building on the club's juniors.
Interleague representative Braeden McLean and Simon Bates have been selected for NEAFL club NT Thunder.