WGFNC takes centre stage

Zak Vernon and Nathan Muratore will feature prominently in another must-watch WGFNC season. 185275 Pictures: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Russell Bennett


The astonishing finish to the 2018 WGFNC home and away season only served to prove how hotly-contested the competition is, with four sides entering the finals with a share of the ladder lead.
And the battle for finals positions is only going to heat up this year with the arrival of Tooradin-Dalmore out of the now defunct South East Football Netball League (SEFNL), and the improvement of the likes of Bunyip and Dalyston.
But last season’s top five won’t be giving up their positions easily, and the vast majority of them have welcomed a string of new recruits to bolster what is already arguably the most intriguing football competition in Gippsland.
Cam Pedersen joins the reigning premiers straight out of the AFL system, while Lachy Hansen has returned to his roots at Nar Nar Goon. Another former AFL player Ben Ross – a past winner of the VFL’s Liston Trophy – has also made his way back home as Aussie Jones and Ricky Clark look to lead the Yips back to the finals.

From all angles, this is truly a competition that is set to have the tongues of local footy fans wagging all season…


Nickname: Bulldogs
Colours: Red, white and blue
Ground: Bunyip Recreation Reserve, Nar Nar Goon-Longwarry Road in Bunyip
President: Glen Clark
Coaches: Aussie Jones and Ricky Clark
2018 finish (W/L): 8th
2018 best and fairest: Damien Szwaja
Last senior premiership: 2012
Key ins: Jye Keath (Banyule), Chris Kelf (Sale City), Nathan Lieshout (Kooweerup), Jeb McLeod (Drouin), Daniel Mislicki, Stephen Morey (Pakenham), Aaron Paxton (Karingal), Duncan Proud (Karingal), Ben Ross (Pascoe Vale), Shane Smith (Yarragon), Michael Whyte (Yarragon).
Key outs: Justin McCleary (Mornington).
More: A proud, successful club like Bunyip was never going to stay down for long – particularly with Aussie Jones and Ricky Clark at the helm of the senior side. They finished eighth last year, but this is a drastically different group featuring a string of highly-credentialed, experienced recruits. Favourite sons Nathan Lieshout, Jeb McLeod, Ben Ross, Shane Smith and Michael Whyte have all returned to the fold, while the likes of Chris Kelf, Daniel Mislicki and Stephen Morey should need no introduction to Gazette readers. Don’t be surprised to see the Bulldogs push for a finals position throughout the season.

Nickname: Cobras
Colours: Teal, red and black
Ground: Cora Lynn Recreation Reserve, Bunyip River Road in Cora Lynn
President: Andrew Bergmeier
Coach: David Main
2018 finish (W/L): 5th
2018 best and fairest: Chris Johnson
Last senior premiership: 2016
Ins: Nathan Gardiner (Cranbourne), Kyle Grigg (Narre Warren), Nathan Langley (Beaconsfield), Troy Tharle (Cranbourne), Brent Urwin (Narre Warren), Mitch Wallace (Beaconsfield).
Outs: Chase Blackwood (Pakenham), Tristan Fernandez, Nick Helsby (retired), Darcy Jones, Levi Munns.
More: So much for 2018 being dismissed as just a rebuilding year! The Cobras entered last season after the disappointment of losing the 2017 decider, but bounced back with a vengeance – toppling the Sea Eagles in an elimination final, despite fielding a particularly young, relatively inexperienced side. This time around they’ve added some genuine firepower up forward with the recruitment of Troy Tharle and Nathan Gardiner from Cranbourne, and the return of Nathan Langley. They’ve also retained the Briggs brothers in the midfield, and have welcomed back key defender Mitch Wallace. Look for the Cobras once again to seriously contend for the crown.

Nickname: Magpies
Colours: Black and white
Ground: Dalyston Recreation Reserve, Tulloch Street in Dalyston
President: Andy Thomas
Coach: Mark Lafferty
2018 finish (W/L): 10th
2018 best and fairest: Blake Carew
Last senior premiership: 2015
Ins: Daniel Beyer (Upper Ferntree Gully), Paul Caruso (Upper Ferntree Gully), Robert Davey (Tarwin), Byron Dryden (Wonthaggi), Ryan Minahan (Ferntree Gully), Jake Saltum (Upper Gully), Ryan Silver (Wantirna South), Corey Wakefield (Upper Gully), Luke Wakefield (Upper Gully), Darcy Wilson (Upper Gully), Dean Wylie (Wonthaggi).
Outs: Michael Marotta (Collingwood VFL/West Preston), Kristian Butler (retired).
More: No side has made more waves on the recruiting front than Dalyston over the off-season. Under new coach Mark Lafferty – who deputised for Paul Brosnan last year, while also serving as WGFNC senior interleague coach – the Magpies have welcomed in a string of talented players from the EFL. They’re coming from a long way back – having finished last in 2018 with just two wins – but look for them to regain a lot of respect in 2019.

Nickname: Stars
Colours: Green and yellow
Ground: Garfield Recreation Reserve, Beswick Street in Garfield
President: Rod Murphy
Coach: Hayden Stanton
2018 finish (W/L): 6th
2018 best and fairest: Jayden Goumas
Last senior premiership: 2013
Ins: Ned Marsh, James McKellar (Drouin), Joel Morgan (Warragul Industrials).
Outs: Jonathon Sauze.
More: The main question surrounding the stars heading into the new season is whether or not they can keep pace with the top five to six sides. They were only a game and percentage outside the finals last year, but this time around they’ll be relying on the continued improvement on their developing youngsters – rather than a long list of recruits – if they’re to make the jump. Favourite son Ned Marsh has made a welcome return to Beswick Street, along with former player-coach Joel Morgan.

Nickname: Sea Eagles
Colours: Navy blue, white and gold
Ground: Inverloch Recreation Reserve, Sandy Mount Avenue in Inverloch
President: Peter Butcher
Coach: Tom McQualter
2018 finish (W/L): 4th
2018 best and fairest: Andrew Soumilas
Last senior premiership: 2017
Ins: Callum Beattie-Powell (Beaumaris), Rowan Clark (Caulfield), Callum Cusack (Heatherton), Aloysio Ferreira (Wonthaggi), Owen Fitzpatrick (Catani), Sam Gibbons (Beaumaris), Brendan Iezzi (Old Trinity), Eric MacPhie (Mount Waverley), Cam Roughead (Caulfield), Tristan Van Driel (Collegians).
Outs: Will Hetherington (Mooroopna).
More: Inverloch Kongwak has been the most consistent side over the course of the WGFNC’s first two seasons, and will be spurred on in year three by the way in which they exited the 2018 finals series. The Sea Eagles, now coached by inaugural WGFNC interleague coach Tom McQualter, have welcomed a series of new and returning faces for this year – but none with a better resume than Old Trinity legend Brendan Iezzi. Look out for the hard-at-it midfielder to make some real waves in this year.

Colours: Maroon, blue and white
Ground: Bass Recreation Reserve, Hade Avenue in Bass
President: Brent Wallace
Coach: Damien Holmes
2018 finish (W/L): 9th
2018 best and fairest: Damien Holmes
Last senior premiership: 2013
Ins: Shelton Rosario (Langwarrin), Layton Sketcher (Woodside), Connor Steel (Bairnsdale)
Outs: Jean Bezzene (Pines), Jake Calvert (Robinvale-Euston), Mitch Whitham (Greensborough), Aiden Paton (Stony Creek).
More: The Panthers will be looking to do everything possible to improve upon their ninth-placed finish to the 2018 campaign, but their task has been made that much harder by the quality of the inclusions to the sides above them. There are few more respected figures in the competition than Damien Holmes, who made an immediate impact on his return to the club last year, but the task facing his side as a mammoth one.

Colours: Red and navy blue
Ground: Kooweerup Recreation Reserve, Denhams Road in Kooweerup
President: Dan Crowley
Coach: Ben Collins
2018 finish (W/L): 3rd (runners-up)
2018 best and fairest: Tim Miller
Last senior premiership: 1981
Ins: Joel Gibson (Gembrook Cockatoo), Adam McMaster, Darren Sheen (Doveton Eagles).
Outs: Anthony Giuliano (Mornington), Ben Kerrigan (Officer), Nathan Lieshout (Bunyip).
More: Can Kooweerup recover from the devastation of the 2018 decider and mount another serious premiership challenge this year? That’s the overriding question when it comes to this Jekyll and Hyde outfit. They’ve lost small forward Anthony Giuliano to the MPNFL, big-bodied midfielder Kerrigan to AFL Outer East, and Lieshout back to his home club Bunyip but they’ve picked up some genuine star-power in Gibson and Sheen, while McMaster has been a real pre-season standout. Expect to see a younger, faster Demons outfit in 2019 – one with an eye on competing for the now, while also building for the future.

Nickname: Giants
Colours: Orange, white and grey
Ground: Korumburra Showgrounds, Sanders Street in Korumburra
President: Peter Hislop
Coach: Paul Alger
2018 finish (W/L): 7th
2018 best and fairests: Alex Johnston, Ben Fitzpatrick, Jake McMillan
Last senior premiership: Nil.
Ins: Luke Lange (Nilma Darnum), Jordan Hill (Leongatha), Archie Brewer (Fish Creek).
Outs: Michael Cooke (Calivil United), Aaron Hillberg (Leongatha), Jake McMillan (Meeniyan Dumbalk United), Matt Edwards.
More: There’s no getting away from the Giants’ struggles of 2018, but moving forward the side can be in no better hands than those of returning favourite son Paul Alger. A true legend of Gippsland footy, he’ll be looking to mould an incredibly young group into one that can develop together. Unfortunately 2019 will be another tough slog, with a decimated spine one of the Giants’ major issues.

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
2018 finish (W/L): 2nd
2018 best and fairest: Brendan Hermann
Last senior premiership: 2010
Ins: Daniel Galante (The Basin), Lachy Hansen (Pascoe Vale), Damon Hansen (Newborough), Mat Slattery (Newborough).
Outs: Todd Beck (Drouin), Bailey Beck (Drouin), Josh Morrison (Neerim Neerim South), Nick Henwood (retired).
More: As one of the sides that shared a four-way ladder lead at the end of the 2018 home and away season, the Goon’s quality is obvious. They’ll again be one of the contenders this year, and will be boosted by the return of favourite son and former North Melbourne utility Lachy Hansen. The versatile Mat Slattery also returns to the Goon after a stint at Newborough, while Daniel Galante comes across from The Basin. Todd and Bailey Beck have headed for Drouin, while club legend Nick Henwood has hung up the boots at senior level.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Colours: Red, white and blue
Ground: Cowes Recreation Reserve, Church Street in Cowes
President: Chris Ross
Coach: Beau Vernon
2018 finish (W/L): 1st (Premiers)
2018 best and fairest: Brendan Kimber
Last senior premiership: 2018
Ins: Cam Pedersen (Melbourne AFL), Eli Richards (Wonthaggi Power), Jason Tomada (Leongatha).
Outs: Aaron Edwards (Devon Meadows), Nick Higginson, Matt Jackson (retired), Joel Piera, Jimmy Taylor (retired), Will Van Diemen (retired), Jarrod Witnish.
More: The reigning premiers have been the talk of the WGFNC for months after securing the highest-profile recruit in the league’s short history so far – former North Melbourne and Melbourne tall Cam Pedersen. His pre-season form has only served to ramp up the hype for a side that dominated last year’s grand final. It should be worth noting, though, that the Bulldogs have also bid farewell to a string of important premiership players. Fortunately for Beau Vernon’s brigade, they’ll welcome a string of gun under-18s into the senior group – the likes of Billy Taylor, Brodie Anderson, Connor Thompson, and Max Mattock.

Nickname: Seagulls
Colours: Green, red and white
Ground: Tooradin Recreation Reserve, Sth Gippsland Hwy in Tooradin
President: Lee Jones
Coach: Lachie Gillespie
2018 finish (W/L): 6th (South East Football Netball League)
2018 best and fairest: Luke McKenna
Last senior premiership: 1997
Ins: Nil.
Outs: Patrick Chin (Nilma Darnum), Dean Warry (Red Hill).
More: The Gulls’ first year in the WGFNC will clearly be one of the competition’s major storylines. Coming out of the now defunct South East Football Netball League where they had to regularly compete against the likes of Berwick, Narre Warren, Beaconsfield and Cranbourne, they’ll be looking forward to being able to push for finals right from the outset. Some questions remain about their scoring power and ball movement – and they’ve been quiet on the recruiting front due to the WGFNC’s lower salary cap – but they’ll be part of the logjam of contenders all season long.

Nickname: Dusties
Colours: Maroon, blue and gold
Ground: Western Park, Tarwin Street in Warragul
President: Dale Bainbridge
Coach: Stephen Ryan
2018 finish (W/L): 3rd (Ellinbank and District Football League)
2018 best and fairest: Tyson Bale
Last senior premiership: 1996
Ins: Matthew Corney (Murrumbeena), Jacob Gibson, Cooper Hampton (Nar Nar Goon), Daniel Martini (Yallourn/Yallourn North), Corey Nickels (Thorpdale), Joel Paredes (Narre Warren), Braden Paulet (Yallourn/Yallourn North), Bailey Quaife (Warragul).
Outs: Steven Ballingall (Mordialloc), Matthew Coutts (Boolarra), Jack Blakey (Frankston Bombers), Mitch Davies, Tye Holland (Longwarry), Will Jolley (Warragul), Murray Kingwill (Buln Buln), Joel Morgan (Garfield), Luke O’Brien (Buln Buln), Josh Peterson (Ellinbank).
More: All eyes will be on the Dusties as they look to make their mark in the WGFNC after falling short in the Ellinbank league. They wanted their chance to take on the powerhouse clubs of the competition, and now they’ve got it. There’s been plenty of player turnover for this proud club, but the Dusties will be looking to gel immediately under the tutelage of the vastly experienced Stephen Ryan, who was AFL-listed in his playing days.


WGFNC Predicted Ladder
1. Phillip Island
2. Nar Nar Goon
3. Cora Lynn
4. Inverloch Kongwak
5. Kooweerup
6. Tooradin Dalmore
7. Bunyip
8. Garfield
9. Dalyston
10. Warragul Industrials
11. Korumburra Bena
12. Kilcunda Bass

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