IT has been 572 days since the siren sounded on the 2019 VFL Grand Final and 579 since the NEAFL came to an end, but the wait is finally over.
(VFL) Football is back at last.
So much has happened since Richmond held off a fast-finishing Williamstown by three points at IKON Park on September 22, 2019, a week after the Brisbane Lions completed an undefeated campaign with a 76-point demolition of Southport in what turned out to be the last NEAFL premiership decider.
CAPTAINS' CALL The VFL skippers make their 2021 predictions
The NEAFL is no more and the VFL looks completely different, with four clubs (Carlton, Gold Coast, Northern Bullants and Sydney) returning to the competition and four more (Aspley, Brisbane Lions, GWS Giants and Southport) to make their maiden appearances this weekend.
Breaking down what might happen is a tougher ask than usual given the long break since we last saw VFL action, but let’s take a look at who might be the teams and players to watch in 2021.
Coach: Daniel Webster
Captain: James Ives
2019 Result: 11-9, 3rd (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Jacob Allison, Ryan Bastinac, Matt Eagles, Matt Hammelman, Michael Hutchinson, Corey Lyons
Key Outs: Jackson Allen, Gavin Grose, Lonnie Hampton, Daniel Henderson, Will Martyn, Billy Murphy, James Nelis, Jake Spencer, Jack Stanley
Five Players To Watch: Jonathan Freeman, William Gowers, Matt Hammelman, Matthew Payne, Reece Toye
Summary: The Hornets will field a vastly experienced team, led by triple NEAFL MVP and triple AFLQ Grogan Medallist Payne. Hammelman has won the past two league goalkicking awards playing for Redland and will provide a strong target, while a group of ex-Lions also strengthen the line-up.
BOX HILL HAWKS
Coach: Sam Mitchell
Captain: Damian Mascitti
2019 Result: 9-9-1, 8th
Key Ins: Hugh Beasley, Jordan Cunico, Josh Deluca, Fergus Greene, Elliott Le Grice, Trent Mynott, Ed Phillips, Callum Porter
Key Outs: Nathan Boucher, Connor Byrne, Billy Evans, Nelson Lane
Five Players To Watch: Charlie Beasley, Riley Bowman, Josh Deluca, Brayden Kilpatrick, Ed Phillips
Summary: The Hawks have recruited very well under new coach Mitchell, with a group of experienced VFL players coming in. They should be stronger than 2019, but how will they go for depth if Hawthorn continues to struggle?
Coach: Mitch Hahn
2019 Result: 20-0, Premiers (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Tahj Abberley, Harrison Arnold
Key Outs: Jacob Allison, Ryan Bastinac, Matt Eagles, Ben Keays, Corey Lyons, Sam Skinner, Toby Wooller
Five Players To Watch: Tahj Abberley, Harrison Arnold, Cam Ellis-Yolmen, Archie Smith, Deividas Uosis
Summary: Undefeated and unchallenged in the NEAFL two years ago, winning the Grand Final by almost 13 goals. The Lions have started slowly at AFL level, but should start finding their feet soon. With that will come a VFL team that will take a power of beating, especially at home.
Coach: Daniel O’Keefe
Captain: Matt Shannon, Ryley Stoddart
2019 Result: 7-11, 10th (Northern Blues)
Key Ins: Ben Crocker, Will Golds, Cody Hirst, Tom North, James Parsons, Matt Shannon, Ryley Stoddart
Key Outs: Nil
Five Players To Watch:
Summary: A great unknown as the Blues standalone for the first time since 2002. Some handy ins will give them a boost, but the depth might not be there for them to challenge the upper echelon of teams in a large competition.
Coach: Mark Corrigan
Captain: Mitch White
2019 Result: 9-9, 9th
Key Ins: Corey Ellison, Zac Foot
Key Outs: Dylan Collis, Will Collis, Mitch Gent, Mykelti Lefau, Luke Tynan
Five Players To Watch: Zac Foot, Tom Freeman, Corey Machaya, Tom McCaffrey, Jimmy Munro
Summary: Melbourne is flying, and Casey can be expected to follow suit. A disappointing 2019 after making the 2018 Grand Final, but any club who can bring Ben Brown back through Casey Fields (along with Sam Weideman, Majak Daw and Mitch Brown last week) has the depth to be a real premiership threat.
Coach: Andrew Sturgess
Captain: Ryan Exon, Peter McEvoy
2019 Result: 2-16, 14th
Key Ins: Corey Ellis, Jack Maibaum, Jacob Ballard, Kyle Galloway, Luke Nelson, Nathan Boucher, Nelson Lane, Tom Silvestro
Key Outs: Billy Cannolo, Brodie Foster, Hedley Smith, Jack Murphy, Steven Stroobants, Tyson Lever, Josh Weightman
Five Players To Watch: Nelson Lane, Marcus Lentini, Sam Lowson, Luke Nelson, Jack Maibaum
Summary: The Lions have been down for a long time but all their recruits will walk into their best 23 and it won’t be an easy game against Coburg this year. Their biggest challenge will be playing their first eight games away until Piranha Park is ready to go. If they can get to mid-season 4-4 or 3-5, they will be able to launch into eight home games in the second half of the year.
Coach: Craig Black
Captain: Campbell Hustwaite, Lachlan Tardrew
2019 Result: 7-11, 11th
Key Ins: Lachlan McDonnell, Scott Selwood, Cody Stackelberg
Key Outs: Michael Chippendale, Andrew Gallucci, Jack Hellier, Sean Hetherington, Lachlan Howe, Elliott Le Grice, Adam Oxley, Matthew Smith, Alex Woodward
Five Players To Watch: Sam Glover, Campbell Hustwaite, Ned Moyle, Cody Stackelberg, Lachlan Tardrew
Summary: The Magpies underachieved for their ability in 2019 and have lost plenty of experience from their VFL (and AFL squads), including ball magnet skipper Woodward. They’ll still be tough to beat at Victoria Park, but Scott Selwood will need to dominate to keep them in the hunt.
Coach: Leigh Tudor
Captain: Joe Atley, Danny Younan
2019 Result: 13-8, 3rd
Key Ins: Joe Atley, Kyle Dunkley, Sam McLarty
Key Outs: Kurt Aylett, Wilson Berry, Ray Connellan, Nick Dixon, Aaron Heppell, Heath Hocking, Nino Lazzaro, Jake McQueen
Five Players To Watch: Joe Atley, Matt Day, Kyle Dunkley, Tom Hird, Danny Younan
Summary: Great to see such a loyal servant in Younan given the captaincy, and he will celebrate his 100th game for the Bombers in Round 1. The younger Dunkley got to Windy Hill and will be boost their midfield, however the experience drain of Heppell and Hocking’s departures means they will need to rely on youth to back up their successive preliminary final appearances.
Coach: Stewart Edge
Captain: Lachie Sullivan
2019 Result: 14-5-1, 5th
Key Ins: Jesse Glass-McCasker
Key Outs: Shaun Edwards, Gerard Gleeson, James Hayes, Josh Prudden, Josh Wallis, Dillon Viojo-Rainbow
Five Players To Watch: Jordan Boyd, Nathan Drummond, Austin Hodge, Ewan MacPherson, Reuben William
Summary: A powerful club at VFL level and with the AFL team on fire, they will be one of the teams to beat in season 2021. Finished second before going out in straight sets two years and would have been stewing over that. Expect a strong showing again this season.
Coach: Danny Ryan
Captain: Josh Newman
2019 Result: 1-17, 15th
Key Ins: Josh Begley, Anthony Brolic, Joel Crocker, Ben Jacobs, Ash Krakauer, Bailey Lambert, Jack Mentha, Kai Owens
Key Outs: Beau Bailey, Aloysio Ferriera, Lachlan Gill-Renouf, Dylan Gordon, Taylor Grace, Alex Hartnett, Brenton Hillard, Goy Lok, Jack McHale, Jimmy Miller, Blake Mullane, Corey Rich, Robbie Turnbull, Yilber Zijai
Five Players To Watch: Josh Begley, Anthony Brolic, Ash Krakauer, Bailey Lambert, Jack Mentha
Summary: Some great recruits and there is a real buzz around Skybus Stadium, especially with those fantastic new lights that will be unveiled tonight. A strong pre-season gives plenty of reason for optimism, but the Dolphins are coming from a long way and may need to take the climb gradually.
Coach: Shane O’Bree
Captain: Aaron Black
2019 Result: 11-8, 7th
Key Ins: Darcy Lang, Jackson Thurlow
Key Outs: Campbell Floyd, Jordan Keras, Ben Reid
Five Players To Watch: Will Christie, James Gow, Callum Mitchell, Shannon Neale, Paul Tsapatolis
Summary: The strength of the senior team and that home ground advantage at the Cattery will ensure Geelong is thereabouts throughout the course of the season. It wouldn’t surprise to see them finish anywhere from top four to outside the top 10.
GOLD COAST SUNS
Coach: Tate Kaesler
2019 Result: 8-10, 7th (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Hewago Oea
Key Outs: Jacob Dawson, Jack Leslie, Lachlan McDonald, Tom Nicholls, Connor Nutting
Five Players To Watch: Jy Farrer, Tom Hofert, Jez McLennan, Hewago Oea, Ryan Pickering
Summary: The Suns have been battered by injuries already this season and face a nightmare opening trip to the Whitten Oval. Plenty of young talent on the Gold Coast, but this is looking like another season of development at this level.
GREATER WESTERN SYDNEY GIANTS
Coach: Luke Kelly
2019 Result: 9-10, 6th (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Nil.
Key Outs: Dylan Addison, Aidan Bonar, Dylan Buckley, Liam Delahunty, Harry Grant, Jackson Hately
Five Players To Watch: Kieran Briggs, Jack Driscoll, Josh Green, Will Shaw, Nick Shipley
Summary: Another club stepping up from the NEAFL that has been smacked by the injury stick. The depth will be a problem at Giants Stadium, and while they will have a formidable home ground advantage, they only get six games there against interstate opposition and might find things a bit tough.
NORTH MELBOURNE KANGAROOS
Coach: Leigh Adams
Captain: Flynn Appleby
2019 Result: 5-13, 13th
Key Ins: Kade Answerth, Josh Clayton, Jacob Heron, Harry Jones, Tyler Roos, Ben Speight, Mat Walker
Key Outs: Nash Holmes, Nathan Hrovat, Chris Jansen, Tyrone Leonardis, Alex Morgan, Matthew Northe, Nick Rippon, Daniel Robinson, Mitch Rodd, Brendan Whitecross
Five Players To Watch: Kade Answerth, Flynn Appleby, Harry Jones, Tyler Roos, Mat Walker
Summary: The senior list had a well-publicised cleanout after last season, and the VFL list has gone through something similar. There are a few useful recruits, including springheeled forward Walker, who has a point to prove after being let go by Hawthorn. It might be a long year though.
Coach: Josh Fraser
Captain: Tom Wilson
2019 Result: 7-11, 10th (Northern Blues)
Key Ins: Paul Ahern, Hisham Kerbatieh, Doug Lawrence, Liam Mackie, Billy Murphy, Ben Silvagni
Key Outs: Frank Anderson, Sam Fisher, Josh Hill, Alex Johnson, Jono O’Rourke, Jesse Palmer, Seb Williams
Five Players To Watch: Paul Ahern, Liam Mackie, Billy Murphy, Ben Silvagni, Tom Wilson
Summary: It will be sensational to see the famous red guernsey with the white ant run out at Preston City Oval again. The club was on its knees when Carlton pulled out of the alliance in March last year and it seemed like 138 years of history was at an end. All credit to everyone who has got the Bullants back to this point, but the hard work on the field starts now. And it will be tough.
PORT MELBOURNE BOROUGH
Coach: Gary Ayres
Captain: Tom O’Sullivan
2019 Result: 12-8-1, 4th
Key Ins: Liam Delahunty, Nash Holmes, Chris Jansen, Patrick Kerr, Dirk Koenen, Mitch McCarthy, Fletcher Roberts, Jackson Starcevich, Corey Wagner
Key Outs: Daniel Beddison, Jarryd Blair, Dylan Conway, Guy Dickson, Khan Haretuku, Dion Johnstone, Ash Krakauer, Shannen Lange, Jordan Lisle, Billy Lloyd, Dylan van Unen
Five Players To Watch: Anthony Anastasio, Patrick Kerr, Jeromy Lucas, Matt McGannon, Tom O’Sullivan Jnr
Summary: Could any club lose more than 1250 matches of VFL experience and still remain up near the top of the ladder? When it is Port Melbourne, the answer is a resounding yes. With Kerr, Roberts and Wagner leading the arrivals and Gary Ayres still at the wheel, the Borough is not dropping off the radar any time soon.
Coach: Xavier Clarke
Captain: Steven Morris
2019 Result: 19-2, Premiers
Key Ins: Nil.
Key Outs: James Fletcher, Blake Grewar
Five Players To Watch: Callum Coleman-Jones, Brad Melville, Bigoa Nyuon, Maurice Rioli Jnr, Sydney Stack
Summary: Held on in that heartstopping Grand Final 18 months ago and will start favourites to go back to back. The Tigers are an all-powerful club at the moment, and until they show they have fallen back to the pack (or the pack catches up), they are definitely the team to beat.
Coach: Jake Batchelor
Captain: Daniel Coffield
2019 Result: 6-12, 12th
Key Ins: Beau Bailey, Chris Carey, Daniel Coffield, Sam Dunell, Goy Lok, Jack McHale, Jackson Ross, Hedley Smith
Key Outs: Jake Batchelor, Sam Fox, Sam Gilbert, Jonathan Haidon, Jack Noone, Kai Owens, Ed Phillips, Brede Seccull, James Sziller, Stephen Tahana, Nathan Wright
Five Players To Watch: Sam Alabakis, Daniel Coffield, Sam Dunell, Mitch Riordan, Hedley Smith
Summary: A big turnover of players since the Zebras ended the Northern Blues’ existence emphatically in 2019. Big names in and out means it is hard to get a gauge on how they will go, but a lot will depend on St Kilda’s fortunes, both in form and fitness.
Coach: Steve Daniel
Captain: Andrew Boston, Seb Tape
2019 Result: 14-6, 2nd (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Daniel Charlesworth, Jacob Dawson, Billy Gowers, Jesse Joyce, Brad Lynch, Connor Nutting, Leigh Osborne, Brad Scheer, Fraser Thurlow, Lukas Webb
Key Outs: Timakoi Bowie, Lee Dale, Joshua Hall, Jack Mentha, Tyler Roos, Matt Shaw, Trent Stubbs, Jordan Taylor, Jed Turner
Five Players To Watch: Tom Fields, Billy Gowers, Mitchell Johnson, Brodie Murdoch, Jesse Travaglini
Summary: A perennial powerhouse in the AFLQ and NEAFL competitions, the Sharks are a club that should be able compete at this level long-term both on and off the field. They have recruited strongly off AFL lists and will be a challenging proposition to play against most weeks. It remains to be seen if they can find the 10 or 11 wins they will likely need to make the finals.
Coach: Jeremy Laidler
2019 Result: 11-9, 4th (NEAFL)
Key Ins: Will Collis, Ryan Hebron, Paddy McCartin
Key Outs: Rory Barkley, Darcy Cameron, Zac Foot, Cody Hirst, Michael Knoll, Kyle McKellar, Toby Pink, James Rose, Ryley Stoddart
Five Players To Watch: Joel Amartey, Jake Bartholomaeus, Will Gould, Paddy McCartin, Ben Ronke
Summary: The Swans have become extremely watchable at senior level and suddenly have some depth that wasn’t around in the past couple of seasons. Hebron starred at Werribee in 2019 and will be a great pick-up in defence, but all eyes will be on McCartin’s much-anticipated comeback. If he goes well, Sydney could be a contender.
Coach: Michael Barlow
Captain: Michael Sodomaco
2019 Result: 12-8, 6th
Key Ins: Wylie Buzza, Nathan Cooper, Nick Hayes, Matthew Lobbe, Shaun Mannagh, Ryan Pendlebury, Edyn Sibbald
Key Outs: Michael Barlow, Ryley Barrack, Joel Bennett, Jack Berry, Ryan Hebron, Timm House, Oskar Junker, Dane McFarlane, Matt Munro
Five Players To Watch: Wylie Buzza, Kye Declase, Nick Hayes, Bior Malual, Shaun Mannagh
Summary: The team who was probably disadvantaged the most by COVID-19. Would have started 2020 close to, if not premiership favourites, having been perfectly primed by Mark Williams. He’s moved on to Melbourne and favourite son Michael Barlow takes his first coaching gig. Despite some key outs (himself at the top of the list), expect the Tigers to be there when the whips are cracking.
Coach: Justin Plapp
Captain: Adam Marcon
2019 Result: 15-5-1, 2nd
Key Ins: Hayden Bertoli-Simmonds, Tom Downie, Jordan Gallucci, Noah Gown, Jack Leslie, Harrison Macreadie, Luke Meadows, Teia Miles, Sam Murray, Cam Polson, Corey Rich
Key Outs: Jack Charleston, Jack Dorgan, Sean Gregory, Ben Kennedy, Sam Martyn, Leigh Masters, Sam McLarty, Nick Meese, Mitch Norton, Jason Pongracic, Tom Schnerring, Oliver Tate, Joel Tippett, Willie Wheeler
Five Players To Watch: Noah Gown, Mitchell Hibberd, Joel Ottavi, Corey Rich, Jaylon Thorpe
Summary: Scroll up to Port Melbourne. The Seagulls have also lost more than 1250 games of experience, which would cripple any other club bar these two. But just look at who new coach Plapp has coming into the squad to replace the who’s who of footballers in the departure lounge. Williamstown can never be written off and will enter another season as a premiership contender.
Liston Medal: Ryan Clarke (Sydney)
Frosty Miller Medal: Matt Hammelman (Aspley)
Fothergill-Round-Mitchell Medal: Marcus Lentini (Coburg)