West Gippy footy returns with a bang

The highly-respected Ben Soumilas was the mastermind behind the drought-breaking premiership win for Inverloch Kongwak. The Sea Eagles will start the new season as red-hot favourites to go back-to-back. 172703 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS



By Russell Bennett

The West Gippsland Football Netball Competition arrived like a breath of fresh air in 2017 – providing an evenness of competition only dreamt of by so many other leagues.
The unpredictability from week to week was one of its biggest drawcards, and in 2018 the same remains.
Inverloch Kongwak’s dominance over Cora Lynn in last year’s grand final was simply stunning, but Ben Soumilas’ Sea Eagles were the best side all season and will be the hunted this time around.
From the northern end of the competition, Nar Nar Goon and Kooweerup look the most likely to challenge the Cobras, while Phillip Island again looks particularly strong at the southern end, and a host of new coaches and star players will add yet another dynamic to one of Gippsland’s most intriguing competitions.
*Information kindly provided by the South Gippsland Sentinel-Times helped contribute to both our football and netball season previews for the WGFNC.


Nickname: Bulldogs
Colours: Red, white and blue
Ground: Bunyip Recreation Reserve, Nar Nar Goon-Longwarry Road in Bunyip
President: Alan Wright
Coaches: Aussie Jones and Ricky Clark
2017 finish (W/L): 9th
2017 best and fairest: Joel Gibson
Last senior premiership: 2012
Key Ins: Cley Bertoncello (Beaconsfield), Damien Szwaja (Beaconsfield), Eamon Tomlin (Gembrook Cockatoo), Jordan Wyatt (Drouin), Justin McCleary (Sorrento), Nathan Allen (Narre Warren).
Key Outs: Adam Rakip (Buln Buln), Bernie Jones (Newlyn), Brad Wolfe (Yarragon), Jack Blakey (Warragul Industrials), Jake Buckingham (Yarragon), Jeb McLeod (Drouin), Joel Gibson, Lachlan Petch (Port Douglas), Michael Whyte (Yarragon), Mitch Davies (Warragul Industrials), Paul Carmody (Yarragon), Shane Smith (Yarragon), Zac Vansittart (Seaford).
More: The changes have come thick and fast at Bunyip, which has undergone a stunning transformation over just a couple of seasons. The Bulldogs will be one of this year’s most intriguing sides. There’s just so much of the unknown about how they’ll line-up, and how competitive they’ll be given the departure of a host of favourite sons. One thing is for sure though – the loyal red, white and blue army will always stick by their team, and Aussie Jones and Ricky Clark are in it for the long-haul.


Nickname: Cobras
Colours: Teal, red and black
Ground: Cora Lynn Recreation Reserve, Bunyip River Road in Cora Lynn
President: Andrew Bergmeier
Coach: David Main
2017 finish (W/L): 2nd (runners-up)
2017 best and fairest: Jeremy Monckton
Last senior premiership: 2016
Ins: Dylan Barfoot (Cranbourne), Jayke Hoy (Meeniyan Dumbalk United), Jayden Deas (Crib Point), Thomas Stiglich (Cranbourne).
Outs: David Main (retired), Justin Markulija (Beaconsfield), Matt Langley (retired), Nathan Gillis (Somerville), Nathan Langley (Beaconsfield), Ryan Gillis (Somerville).
More: All good things must eventually come to an end, and that was the case for the Cobras last year as their run of three straight premierships was stopped dead in its tracks by a rampant Sea Eagles side. There’s been somewhat of a changing of the guard at Cora Lynn since, with the ‘Baby Cobras’ now set to step up. Players like the Briggs brothers (Heath and Jaxon), Jai Rout, Tristan Fernandez, Chase Blackwood, Darcy Jones, and Levi Munns are all names to look out for as part of the best young batch of players the club has potentially ever had, while some targeted recruits and the return of midfield leader Nick Helsby from injury are all set to have a significant impact on a side that should still be finals-bound.


Nickname: Magpies
Colours: Black and white
Ground: Dalyston Recreation Reserve, Tulloch Street in Dalyston
Presidents: Paul Dunlop and Andy Thomas
Coach: Paul Brosnan
2017 finish (W/L): 3rd
2017 best and fairest: Michael Marotta
Last senior premiership: 2015
Ins: Nil.
Outs: Brad Fisher, Chris Graham (Yea), Dean Wylie (Wonthaggi), Kyle Kirk (West Adelaide), Michael Kraska, Todd Burley (South Belgrave).
More: After bowing out in straight sets in last year’s finals, Dalyston could be set for a tough season in 2018. Losing key players Kyle Kirk, Dean Wylie and Brad Fisher will really hurt the Magpies’ structure. They relied heavily on former Carlton utility Fisher, in particular, as their rock in defence who could also have a massive impact when moved forward. Dalyston will now look to its junior ranks to fill the holes in the senior squad, with players Kale Wilson set to have more regular roles in the senior side.


Nickname: Stars
Colours: Green and yellow
Ground: Garfield Recreation Reserve, Beswick Street in Garfield
President: Michael McMahon
Coach: Hayden Stanton
2017 finish (W/L): 8th
2017 best and fairest: Tyson Payne
Last senior premiership: 2013
Ins: Corie Intveen (Narre Warren), Leigh Diston, Michael Wallace (Tooradin), Nick Macente (Berwick), Tanner Stanton (Eastern Lions), Tim Vrevc (Berwick).
Outs: Adam MacGibbon (AFL Capricornia), Darcy Payne (AFL Capricornia), Harley Lacunes (retired), Jarryd Drew (Tasmanian State League), Joel Morgan (Warragul Industrials), Ned Marsh, Rory Hower (retired), Sam Cougle (Moe), Sam Whibley (Warragul), Saxon Watson, Tyson Payne (AFL Capricornia).
More: Garfield has bid farewell to a host of household names – and bonafide Stars – and in their stead is a young, eager group that promises to be full of run and excitement. There’s no getting away from the fact that 2018 will be a testing season on a lot of fronts for Garfield, but the side’s competitiveness from week-to-week will be assured under highly-respected new coach Hayden Stanton.


Nickname: Sea Eagles
Colours: Navy blue, white and gold
Ground: Inverloch Recreation Reserve, Sandy Mount Avenue in Inverloch
President: Bruce Clark
Coach: Ben Soumilas
2017 finish (W/L): 1st (Premiers)
2017 best and fairest: Andrew Soumilas
Last senior premiership: 2017
Ins: Conor Cunningham (Poowong).
Outs: Santo Joma (Wonthaggi), Tom Bartholomew (Doncaster).
More: Inverloch Kongwak finished the inaugural West Gippsland Football Netball Competition season in style, claiming the premiership with an emphatic 95-point victory over Cora Lynn. After breaking a 31-year premiership drought, Soumilas’ group has been hard at work over the summer preparing for their title defence. The sky again appears the limit for this Sea Eagles squad, which dismantled a super-talented Cora Lynn side on the biggest of stages. Though star-studded at the top end, it was the Eagles’ depth and the development of their younger players – like Campbell McKenzie, Oscar Toussaint, and Ryan Sparkes – which had them so well placed.


Nickname: Panthers
Colours: Maroon, blue and white
Ground: Bass Recreation Reserve, Hade Avenue in Bass
President: John Shaw
Coach: Damien Holmes
2017 finish (W/L): 7th
2017 best and fairest: Brent Macaffer
Last senior premiership: 2013
Ins: Ben Arnold (Nilma Darnum), Chris McKay (DWWWW), Damien Holmes (Pakenham), Hayden Spierings (DWWWW), Jake Calvert (Broadbeach), Jake Weightman (DWWWW), James Phillips (DWWWW), Jean Bezzene (Nilma Darnum), Jeffrey Winmar (Narrogin Hawks), Jordan Osborne (Highett), Luke Callander (Officer), Mitch Tivendale (Officer), Nick Arney (DWWWW).
Outs: Aiden Patton, Alex Kerr, Ben Law (retired), Brent Macaffer (Eltham), Chris Endres (Hoppers Crossing), Danny Wells (Longwarry), Jason Wells (Kooweerup), Luke James (Murrumbeena), Matt Edwards (Korumburra-Bena), Matt Moore (Mordialloc), Mitch Golby (Melton South), Tim Smith (Murrumbeena).
More: There have been sweeping changes across the board at the Panthers, with much of last year’s group moving on. This year, much of the group is aged in the early-20s age bracket and there’s a need to fast-track some unexperienced players into the senior ranks. Damien Holmes (Pakenham) is a welcome return to the Panthers fold and he expects his group to be competitive week in, week out. There’s a high-quality group of characters in the 2018 squad who will relish their chance at a fresh start.


Nickname: Demons
Colours: Red and navy blue
Ground: Kooweerup Recreation Reserve, Denhams Road in Kooweerup
President: Dan Crowley
Coach: Ben Collins
2017 finish (W/L): 6th
2017 best and fairest: Nathan Muratore
Last senior premiership: 1981
Ins: Ben Cherry (DWWWW), Dom Paynter (Pakenham), Jason Wells (Kilcunda Bass/Hill End), Sean Alexander (Beaconsfield).
Outs: Travis Bindley (Berwick).
More: The time for talk is over at Denhams Road. After missing the finals by the barest of margins last year, the prodigiously-talented Demons are looking to bounce back with a vengeance in 2018. Added leg-speed from the likes of former SENFL best and fairest winner Dom Paynter and ex- Kilcunda Bass star forward Jason Wells will address a key area of concern for the boys from the red and blue. An under-the-radar pre-season from Collins’ men has been by design. They need to let their footy do the talking now.


Nickname: Giants
Colours: Orange, white and grey
Ground: Korumburra Showgrounds, Sanders Street in Korumburra
Presidents: Ross Besley and Phil Huguenin
Coach: Ben McGee
2017 finish (W/L): 10th
2017 best and fairest: Ben Fitzpatrick
Last senior premiership: Nil.
Ins: Aaron Hillberg (Leongatha), Bailey Patterson (Leongatha), Matt Edwards (Kilcunda Bass).
Outs: Nil.
More: The only way is up for Korumburra Bena, which had a particularly disappointing debut season in the WGFNC – winning just the single game. But strong recruiting in the off-season and the recommitment of the playing group means the Giants could be one of the big improvers of 2018. Speaking about his recruits, coach Ben McGee said: “We’re super excited to get the boys back in town. The West Gippsland league is going ahead in leaps and bounds and we are looking forward to what it has to offer over the next few years”.


Nickname: The Goon
Colours: Navy blue and white
Ground: Nar Nar Goon Recreation Reserve, Spencer Street in Nar Nar Goon
President: Dene Missen
Coach: Dean Blake
2017 finish (W/L): 4th
2017 best and fairest: Trent Armour
Last senior premiership: 2010
Ins: Daniel Battaglin (Beaconsfield), Chris Cairns (Pakenham), Christiaan Dauphin (Officer), Dean Blake (Pakenham), Jake Blackwood (Doveton), Jake Smith (Pakenham), Josh Morrison (Neerim Neerim South), Sam Blackwood (Pakenham), Sean McDermott (Beaconsfield), Tom Blackwood (Pakenham), Troy McDermott (Beaconsfield).
Outs: Cooper Sheppard (Pakenham), Jordan Stewart (Pakenham), Josh Grant (Natte Bealiba), Kory Grant (Eastern Lions), Kris Fletcher (Monbulk), Zac Stewart (Pakenham).
More: The Goon has made a real splash in its attempt to improve on its elimination final appearance from last year. New coach Dean Blake has made the switch from Pakenham and has brought a host of proven talent from the South East Football Netball League across with him – including former Team of the Year members. After making such high-profile list changes, the Goon is looking to evolve in its style in 2018 – to be more unpredictable in its ball movement.


Nickname: Bulldogs
Colours: Red, white and blue
Ground: Cowes Recreation Reserve, Church Street in Cowes
Presidents: Casey Cleeland and Chris Ross
Coach: Beau Vernon
2017 finish (W/L): 5th
2017 best and fairest: Brendan Kimber
Last senior premiership: 2014
Ins: Hayden Bruce (Beaumaris), Jordan Patullo (Leongatha), Josh Simpson (Tyabb), Marcus Wright (Beaumaris), Zak Vernon (Leongatha).
Outs: Rhett O’Hara (Warragul Industrials), Shaun Everington (Bridgewater), Steven Pimm (Forest Hill), Hayden Moore (retired).
More: Favourite son Beau Vernon is loving being back at The Kennel after his premiership-winning stint in the Gippsland League at the helm of Leongatha. His family connection runs deep at the Island, and he’s relishing every moment of his return. Coming across with Vernon is a select group of star players who will have an impact immediately. Pre-season reports indicate that the Dogs have been training particularly well and are looking forward to taking the game on in 2018 and playing a running style of footy that’s a kind of hybrid between the Gippsland League and WGFNC styles.

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