IT is a new season and reigning premiers Box Hill Hawks are the team with a target on their back. We take a look at each of the 15 Victorian Football League (VFL) teams with plenty of new inclusions to excite fans ahead of the season, with Werribee and Port Melbourne tipped to be some of the top sides in the competition.
Box Hill Hawks
Last season: Premiers
The Hawks have brought in a number of big ball winners to their side with tall winger, Mason De Wit and strong mid/forward Jake Frawley heading to the brown and gold with outside runner, Boadie Motton from Gippsland Power. The Hawks have also picked up Nathan Mullenger-McHugh from the Western Bulldogs, and some experience out west in West Perth’s Luke Meadows. Add in Port Melbourne’s Damian Mascitti and the talented but relatively unknown Paddy Anderson from the Hampden League, and the Hawks have brought in some page and power up forward, as well as great midfield depth. Will Hams will be a loss with a number of other players out to play local footy, while former Sandringham Dragon, Georgie Nagle has headed to Port Melbourne. The reigning premiers have built on the list that took them to the cup last season and they are a team to watch in season 2019.
Last season: Grand Finalists
The Demons have traded around Stingrays, with Riley D’Arcy, Goy Lok and Ali Zijai all heading to Frankston over the summer, but have brought in premiership Stingrays, Jai Taylor and Matthew Gahan for the 2019 season. Gahan offers good movement out of defence, while the lightning quick Taylor will no doubt make it easy for Casey’s social media team to regularly draw out highlights. Heath Briggs joins his brother at the Demons, while Nick Lowden has progressed from Gippsland among a couple of Port Melbourne recruits in Luke Tynan and Anthony Vella. With a few local league players also joining the side including a familiar name with Darcy Fritsch – brother of Melbourne’s Bailey – pulling on the red and blue. It was a heartbreaking loss in the Grand Final last season and the Demons will be keen to go one better this year with the additions.
Last season: 15th (Wooden spoon)
Change was afoot at Coburg over the summer with a match day team full of players coming in, and going out of the Lions’ doors. From a VFL perspective, Matthew Harman has crossed from the Northern Blues with Alex Federico to join former Northern Knights teammates, Braedyn Gillard and Mark Baker at the club, while fellow draft prospects last year, Mitch Podhajski – who returns on a full-time basis to the club – Jack Evans and Lucas Cavallaro all switch from Calder to Coburg. Evans and Cavallaro will provide good drive out of defence, while Podhajski will be a dominant force in multiple areas around the ground. Add in former Eastern Ranges outside midfielder Xavier Fry, a couple of Gold Coast NEAFL players in Brodie Foster and Harry Simington and Canberra Demons’ Jack Baker who was close to being drafted last season, and the Lions have really built some serious depth this year. Of the departures, Hisham Kerbatieh, Nick Mellington and Sean Gregory have crossed to the Seagulls, while Tom Condon will try his hand in the SANFL With Sturt.
Last season: 5th (Elimination final exit)
A relatively settled line-up, the Magpies will have a bitter taste in their mouth after coming close to a double chance, only to be knocked out in the elimination final by Essendon. Adam Oxley has hung around at the club after being delisted by Collingwood’s AFL side, while Dandenong Stingrays’ co-captain Campbell Hustwaite looms as a massive inclusion who could put his name up in lights with a big season, while Alex Spencer is the other addition coming from Port Melbourne. Marty Hore and Tom Jok were drafted by Melbourne and Essendon respectively, while Gus Borthwick also departs. The Magpies will hope for a better run of injuries this season with the VFL side stretched at times last year given the amount of AFL players required at AFL level.
Last season: 8th (Preliminary final exit)
Essendon have strategically brought in a number of over-age prospects who did have draft interest over the past two years, with key defender Daniel Hanna and Oakleigh Chargers versatile tall, Matthew Day having plenty of draftable attributes but needing to iron out a few things. Jacob Atley will also share time between Essendon and Bendigo Pioneers in his bid to get drafted with Essendon considering him for an AFL list spot last year. Nick Hind was a whirlwind last season but he will now cross to Sandringham to play with St Kilda’s affiliate, while Alex Boyse also departed the club over the off-season after some draft interest. The Bombers have also picked up former Saint, Ray Connellan, as well as Werribee’s Kurt Aylett and Port Melbourne’s Josh Tynan who should all make important contributions to the club.
Last season: 9th
Footscray has bolstered its side ahead of the 2019 season, only losing Jamison Shea to Southport, while Will Hayes got his chance for the Bulldogs’ senior side. Richmond’s Nathan Drummond and Geelong’s Ryan Gardner cross to the club after being delisted last season, while former Carlton AFL player, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow has made the move further west after a stint with Port Melbourne. Interestingly, the Bulldogs have raided St Kevin’s to top up their list, with Sam Barnett, Lachlan Farrugia, Gerard Gleeson and Billy Kanakis all signing onto the club this year. Footscray would hope that the inclusions will be enough to reach the finals after narrowly missing out last year.
Last season: 14th
The Dolphins had moments returning to the competition for the 2018 season, but ultimately just managed the two wins from 18 games in 2018. Unsuprisingly, Frankston has looked to Sandringham Dragons and Dandenong Stingrays for young talent coming through, while also picking up some former Dragons who were delisted by their respective AFL clubs. Nathan Freeman was a feel-good story last year for the Saints, but his AFL time came to an end, as did Sydney’s Angus Styles who was delisted after one year on the rookie list. Former Stingrays, Riley D’Arcy and Ali Zijai, and former Dragon, Goy Lok all return to Frankston, along with potential Brisbane father-son James Rendell, former Mentone Grammar captain, Harry Houlahan, and Stingrays duo, Aaron Darling – who has had two consecutive knee reconstructions – and Lachlan McDonnell who was unlucky to miss out on being drafted last season. The Dolphins will also help develop St Kilda ruck, Sam Alabakis who was allowed to play for Frankston given St Kilda’s ruck depth who will play at Sandringham.
Last season: 3rd (Semi-final exit)
Geelong has made minimal changes to its line-up for the 2019 season, with captain Tom Atkins pulling on the senior blue and white hoops so likely to roll through the VFL team this season, while former Greater Western Victoria (GWV) Rebels midfielder Aiden Domic, has crossed to Werribee. His Rebels teammate, Charlie Wilson joins the club and will provide some firepower in attack. Gippsland Power key defender Kyle Reid comes into the Cats line-up and with a good season could be a chance to be drafted as a 19-year-old given the Cats’ tendency to draft their own state league players and ageing key defenders, while Aaron Black stays at the club after being delisted. The Cats have also headed to the Goulburn Valley to recruit Nik Rokahr and Luke Smith from the Shepparton Bears. The Cats had a terrific season last year, but fell short in finals, exiting in straight sets at the hands of eventual premiers, Box Hill Hawks.
Last season: 12th
The Northern Blues have bolstered their line-up with some AFL experience, bringing in key defensive duo, Kieran Collins and Alex Johnson. Collins was close to getting a reprieve with the Blues in the AFL, but will bide his time for Carlton’s VFL affiliate, while Johnson was the feel-good story then the heartbreak story of 2018. After multiple knee reconstructions, the former Sydney defender has not given up hope of reaching the highest level again and it will be interesting to see how he fairs in the state league. Hawthorn’s Jonathan O’Rouke also joins the club with some unfulfilled potential, while South Croyden’s Frank Anderson was the name that had a few eyebrows raised when State Combine invites went out last year, but the talented former Eastern Football League star will now get the chance to step up at the higher level.
North Melbourne Kangaroos
Last season: 10th
Not a great deal of change out at North Melbourne, with Alex Morgan staying at the club despite being delisted by the AFL affiliate. Brendan Whitecross will provide invaluable experience after his time at Hawthorn, while former Sydney player, Daniel Robinson also joins the Roos for season 2019. Sam Parson crosses to the club from Box Hill Hawks, while key forward Michael Close, Liam Whelan and Steve Stroobants all depart. The Kangaroos were solid in their debut year last year, finishing 10th and pushing towards a finals birth at times. They did get smashed by the AFL Academy side early in the year, but once North Melbourne gelled, they showed what they were capable of in the competition.
Port Melbourne Borough
Last season: 7th (Elimination final exit)
The 2017 premiers bowed out in the first week of finals last year to eventual premiers, Box Hill Hawks. Like most standalone clubs, the Borough have made plenty of changes to their list, with Kieran Strachan the headline departure after being picked up by Adelaide Crows. Robin Nahas has retired and Dillon Viojo-Rainbow heads to Footscray, while Lucas Cook and Luke Tynan have also left. Into the side comes former Collingwood premiership player, Jarryd Blair, as well as a host of Oakleigh Chargers including Charlie Beasley, Jake Gasper and Xavier Fry. Gasper will replace Nahas as the danger inside 50, while Blair and experienced VFL campaigner, Ben Jolley will be the hard men in the middle with the latter the biggest transfer of the summer. Matthew Signorello has returned to Victoria after being delisted by Adelaide, while former Melbourne player, Dion Johnston has also joined the club. Patrick Veszpremi will try his luck at state level again, returning from Pascoe Vale, while Tom Goodwin (Coburg) and Geordie Nagle (Box Hill Hawks) are some of the VFL talent that have changed clubs to Port Melbourne.
Last season: 1st (Semi-final exit)
It was not a good September for Richmond fans at any level considering two minor premiership led to a straight sets exit and a preliminary final exit. After finishing on top of the table in season 2019, the Tigers looked like going all the way, but as they found out, finals is a different ball game, even for the light technicians and despite some controversy over the finals losses – one they were left in the dark and the second was a brilliance passage of play from Nick Hind in the dying seconds being the difference – they will look to rebound in season 2019.
Last season: 13th
The Zebras had a disappointing season in 2018, recording a bottom four finish and have subsequently overhauled plenty of their list ahead of the 2019 season. They have made Kai Owens a more full-time member of the side, while Sam Sofronidis, Anthony Seaton, Ryan O’Meara and Nick Stamatis all go through the pathway from Dragons to Zebras. Nathan Wright provides some AFL experience, as does Sam Gilbert who has experienced the atmosphere of AFL Grand Final Day, while Port Melbourne’s Dylan Atkins is another with state league experience invaluable to the Zebras cause. A host of local players round out a long list of additions for season 2019.
Last season: 11th
The Tigers might not have had the best season, finishing in eleventh last year, but they had two players head north to ply their trade with the Gold Coast SUNS. Both Sam Collins and Josh Corbett were pre-listed by the SUNS and will forge AFL careers, while Andrew Hooper and Kurt Aylett both head to the Bombers’ VFL side. While they have lost some experience, the Tigers are arguably the team to watch in season 2019, with AFL experience galore, as well as some seriously talented state league and former TAC Cup stars. Michael Barlow and Max Spencer (Gold Coast), Oscar Junker and Daniel Nielson (North Melbourne), Timm House (Geelong) and Jackson Edwards (Adelaide) return after stints on AFL lists, Barlow the most recognisable name of the lot. Jake Riccardi and Scott Carlin join the club on a full-time basis after playing as 19 year-olds last season, while Ryan Hebron and Josh Clayton are NEAFL players who were in the draft conversation. Key position players, Tom Boyd and Hudson Garoni will straighten the Tigers up, while Western Jets have provided four players to the club, with ball winners, Connor Thar and Jack Watkins, key position utility Hamish Murphy and Nick Stuhldreier all coming to the club. The biggest recruit might be off the field, with 2004 AFL Premiership coach, Mark Williams taking the reigns at Werribee.
Last season: 4th (Preliminary final exit)
The narrowest of defeats in the Preliminary Final to eventual premiers Box Hill Hawks might have stung over the summer had the National AFL Draft not rolled around.By the end of November, Williamstown’s Ben Cavarra – a player with a well-documented pathways journey – finally found an AFL home at the Western Bulldogs, while Lachlan Schulz and Brett Bewley remained teammates over in the west with Fremantle. By the AFL season start, Michael Gibbons would become a Blue, making it a mammoth four players drafted by the one club over the off-season, then club legend Ben Jolley departed for rivals Port Melbourne. The Seagulls will undoubtedly drop back a bit with the serious talent that has left the club, but will be proud of the development pathway provided. In saying that, they have brought in North Melbourne’s Mitch Hibberd and Collingwood’s Sam McLarty for some AFL experience, while Joel Ottavi, Nick Mellington, Hisham Kerbatieh and Nick Sing cross from other VFL clubs. From the TAC Cup, Stefan Radovanovic will provide speed and power for the Seagulls, while former Collingwood small Ben Kennedy also joins the club, A team to watch with interest to see how they go given the amount of experience out the door, but always a team to keep an eye on.
Runner-Up: Port Melbourne