River Murray Football League 2018 team-by-team season preview

MYPOLONGA: Reigning premiers to stick to process

REIGNING premiers Mypolonga head into a new season full of confidence but grounded with a solid understanding of the work ahead of them.

A team-first mentality, mixed with youthful exuberance and full commitment from the playing group saw the Tigers become last season’s champions.

It was an incredible journey for a side many did not expect to play finals football.

The Tigers had a minor season record of 10 wins and six losses and finished third on the table. They went on to write history, erase the longest premiership drought in the competition and with their first flag since 1994.

What a feeling: Mypolonga completed a fairytale 2017 season with a premiership win, defying all the odds. Can they win it all again or will another club set up and create their own fairytale?

What a feeling: Mypolonga completed a fairytale 2017 season with a premiership win, defying all the odds. Can they win it all again or will another club set up and create their own fairytale?

But Mypo league coach Steve Sumner – who took the Tigers to the flag in his first season at the helm - isn’t basking in the glory.

“The grand final has come and gone, we’ve got round one of a new season to focus on,” Sumner said.

“It’s not about recapturing the success, it’s about staying true to the process.

“Last year was step one of a three year plan in developing sustained success – winning was a bit of a bonus and if the window opens, you’ve got to take it.”

Sumner said he felt no extra pressure to perform.

“We’ve got enough to worry about without focusing on last year’s success - there is no pressure to relive what happened - it’s week in, week out for us,” he said.

While the Tigers’ coaching staff aren’t feeling any added post-premiership pressure, expectations have not been lowered.

“We want to play finals again,” he said.

Sumner said the club would look to continue to build on their current youth stocks and develop from within.

“We are one of the youngest teams going around and will probably be even younger this year,” he said.

“We haven’t recruited heavily, we haven’t gone for high profile players.”

While Mypolonga have been able to retain most of their premiership stars, Sumner said the Tigers were looking at being an even younger side again.

We’ve got enough to worry about without focusing on last year’s success - there is no pressure to relive what happened - it’s week in, week out for us.

Mypolonga coach Steve Sumner

He said the would be a “general transition in the playing group” detailing up to seven players as being unlucky to miss on on grand final selection.

Grand final players Locky Dodds-Watson and Cruise Pengilly aren’t coming back at this stage with Jack Kluske playing with Port Adelaide in the SANFL.

Bradley Oats joins the Tigers from Imperials and Mitchell Bowley comes in from Broughton Mundoora with big wraps.

The core group including James Moss, Ben Gogel, Clint Diment, Seamus McDonnell, Brad and Sam Martin and Corey Jones are all going on again and Sumner credited leaders like Moss and Gogel as those who instill the team-first philosophy and set the one-group mentality that enables others to buy into.

Expect to see more of what made the Tigers the 2017 champions and even improve.

MENINGIE: Don’t write off the Bears

Make no mistake about it; Meningie head into the 2018 as what new senior coach Ryan Lewis has described as a “totally different side”.

Former playing coach and four-time best and fairest Brian Fenton headlines a long list of departures including the Bears’ 2017 leading goalkicker Jed Durdin and grand final players Myles Warmington, Tyson Schmid, Harrison Slee, Josh Niven, Corey McDonald, Thomas Thelps and Karl Lodhe.

The Bears were the best side in the competition in 2018, up until grand final day. Meninige finished with the highest percentage of any team last season averaging 107 points a game.

They kicked 285 goals for the season but the players leaving kicked almost 60 percent of them.

Take out Durdin’s 54 goals, Fenton’s 42, Warmington's 24, McDonald and Slee’s 12 each and Schmidt’s 11 each and that is 155 goals the Bears will need to replace.

However, it would be foolish to write the Bears’ off in 2018 and Lewis said the player losses has done nothing to dampen the team’s spirit. 

The Bears retain some of their stars, none bigger than favourite son Brodie Martin.

The 2017 Standard Medalist and former AFL player was the best player in the league last year.

SA Country ruckman Peter Nelson is still at the Bears and Meningie have recruited well to ensure they maximise on the first use he provides.

Seb and Will Paynter join Meningie as two massive signings.

Seb was captain Adelaide Uni division one side last season and won his fifth best and fairest for the club and he finished runner-up in the 2017 Hone Medal for the best player in the division one competition.

Both have played league football at Sturt and Will had a stint with the Adelaide Crows SANFL side.

Another big in is Alex Scott – a smart and experienced footballer from West Adelaide.

Lewis said all three had fit in perfectly.

“They’ve been fantastic … they are all about the club with no egos, they get the best out of themselves and those around them and bring plenty of leadership,” he said.

Peter Reichelt returns to the Bears.

He left with a reputation as one of the best defenders in the league so he will be a big in.

Lewis paid tribute to the outgoing group of players and said Meningie was grateful for the four years of service from their outgoing stars.

He said the preparation had been different with a number of personal changes.

“It’s been about getting the group together, enjoying their footy and getting the most out of what we’ve got,” Lewis said.

“We don’t have the same names but we are developing a style and getting everyone playing for each other.”

He said expectations were still high and he was confident in his team’s ability to contend in 2018.

“With high number of recruits previously, blokes who missed out are now getting an opportunity – a lot of local players who were fringe are now certain starters,” he said.

“Last year we won games on ability alone, we never really got that team play – this year we don’t rely on a few, it will be an even spread.”

JERVOIS: Old Bloods, New Bluds

Expectations are high for Jervois in 2018 and not just externally.

Jervois senior coach Ryan Willits is backing his team’s ability to be major contenders and believes they are capable of winning the premiership.

“We feel we have the team capable of winning the flag,” he said.

“And anything less probably isn’t acceptable … but that’s the expectation every year – you’re building for a premiership, and we are in a position to win one this year.”

While hot form in late in the 2017 season and solid recruiting has seen the premiership-favourite tag placed on Jervois from outside of the club, Willits said the outside noise didn’t phased him but his personal exceptions were high and he is holding the Bluds to a higher standard in 2018.

The Bluds had a slow start to the season last year, but once they found their feet, they got on a roll making it all the way to a preliminary final.

We feel we have the team capable of winning the flag.

Jervois coach Ryan Willits

It’s a star-studded line up which includes Willits himself; a 150-game SANFL premiership star who also played the game at the highest level with a stint in the AFL.

Justin Hardy is another accomplished SANFL footballer who made his mark in the RMFL last year.

And again, Old Bloods will become new Bluds.

Taite Silverlock joins Jervois after more than 100 games at West Adelaide while Tyson Slattery is heading to the Bluds after winning Goolwa’s best and fairest in 2017.

Both players were drafted to Essendon early in their careers, which highlights their ability even further.

They join the likes of best and fairest Peter Zarantonello, match-winner Owen Love, the highly admired Tony Gibson, Brad Gabel who had a breakout year and other talented locals like Josh Noye and Tom Kluske.

It is little wonder Willits has faith in the list and what it can achieve with the star power and local depth and the coach said 2017 was a great learning year and has propelled them into contention.

“Jervois have lost a lot in the past 10 or so years and we got used to it,” he said.

“Now we go out expecting to win.”

MANNUM: Healthy Roos set to bounce back

Mannum enter a new season after a turbulent 2017.

For parts of the year, Mannum looked unbeatable but it was a disappointing end to the season for the Roos who went in the finals with major injury concerns.

They bowed out in straight sets after a titanic shootout with Mypolonga and a loss to a red-hot Jervois.

However, some certainties from last year will carry into this season.

Gene Robinson is going to kick goals. And he is going to kick a lot of them.

He’s coming off a 110-goal season in which he averaged six goals a game and together with Korey Loechel, Mannum have some serious firepower.

Another certainty is a fit Levi Krause is going to win plenty of the football.

The star Roo was the in-form midfielder of the comp before injury derailed his season but an injury-free Krause is a dangerous prospect for any opposition.

Likewise with Jye De Zylva, who returns to the club after a good season last year, dampened only by injury. 

Mannum president Dave Schellen said injury took a “massive toll” and played a part in the side’s straight-sets final exit last year and while depth was a concern, the top-line looks good again for the Roos.

“We’ve lost a bit of height with (former Mail Medalist Jake) Bowen and Isaac Boylan,” he said.

But Schellen said it was hoped they could lure back zero-point ruckman Brad Wakefield to the club.

The big name to land at Mannum is Billy Hayes.

Hayes comes to the Roos having won the Wimmera Football League best and fairest medal in 2017 and after some time at the Glenelg Football Club.

Schellen also introduced Anthony Cooper, from Torrens Valley as new a Roo who comes in as a backman and is described as an “old school, hard-nut”.

The president said that while a few of their top performing players from their 2017 under 17.5 flag were no longer at the club, players like Jack Woolward would be welcome additions to the club’s A grade side.

RAMBLERS: Fresh leadership to spark Roosters

The Rambler Football Club head into the season with the excitement of fresh direction under new senior coach Scott Prebble.

The club believes Prebble will bring a fresh and knowledgeable approach to the position, having coaching experience in many levels with roles at a number of SANFL clubs including his current role as game development officer at Woodville West Torrens FC (SANFL) and assistant coaching gigs at SANFL junior and amateur senior level.

Prior to the preseason, Prebble said he was looking forward to working with the playing list to “build on a brand of football and implement a game plan that is exciting for the players to play and supporters to watch.”

“I am delighted with the local and junior talent the club has and am keen to nurture this and follow their development through the course of the season,” he said.

Fast forward to the week of the opening round, and Prebble believes the side is tracking well.

“The main 25 or so have been out to most sessions, so should be fit and ready,” he said.

Prebble said trial matches were important in implementing his new style and also helped him further identify areas for improvement.

Prebble’s exceptions are to return the Roosters to a top three position and he said while it may take a few games for the players to adapt to a new style, he was confident that when they did, the side would be hitting their best football in the second half of the year and into the pointy end.

New Rambler coach Scott Prebble.

New Rambler coach Scott Prebble.

While Ramblers lose a few key performers in the likes of Alex Pfeiffer and Tyson Matthews, they have recruited well.

“Nick Pearce has been great … hes a big teddy bear socially but he’s a big, intimidating fella on the field and a genuine tap ruckman,” Prebble said.

Prebble also introduced Ronald Rankine – a State country representative - as a new player to the club who he described as “an experienced footballer, a smooth, calm player and probably the side’s best runner.”

“Lathanuel Rigney also joins us – he’s an outside player, finds space uses it well – he’s an athlete and an exciting player,” he said.

Former Rambler Kieran Yakas also returns to Ramblers after taking his game to the next level during his time playing the game in Western Australia.

Prebble said the Roosters had gone a long way during the preseason and he looked forward to the side’s continued development as they aim to delve deep into September.

“The guys are keen and engaged,” he said.

“I am really looking forward to it.”

TAILEM BEND: Eagles looking to take that next step

Tailem Bend enter the 2018 season desperate to take another step up and become contenders.

The Eagles improved from zero wins in 2016 to five wins in 2017 and got off the bottom of the ladder but failed to reach their goal and play finals.

Tailem Bend were able to record wins over eventual premiers Mypolonga, preliminary finalist Jervois and had close encounters with minor premiers Meningie in a much improved effort from the previous season.

However, Tailem Bend missed their chance to go the next step –  five wins and 11 losses did not elevate the Eagles to a finals position.

Heading into the 2018 season, Tailem Bend have lost some firepower with Scott Welsh leaving to take a coaching job in the KNTFL and Mackenzie Hansen heading to Port Adelaide.

Midfielder Daniel Bartlett is another out while Michael Sumner heads into retirement.

However, senior coach Gary Peach, who is entering his third year back in the Eagles’ head job, believes Tailem Bend have recruited well and are set to take big steps in 2018.

“We’ve increased our midfield depth, strengthened our defence and we have a whole new forward line set up,” he said.

The Eagles have picked up former Rambler junior Brad Hartman, who has spent time playing the game at the highest level with a stint in the AFL at Geelong.

He’s a proven performer and a huge pick up for the Eagles.

He is joined by backman Jake Ferraro from Plympton, Ben Crate from the Southern Football League while depth is bolstered by the returning William Lipp, Jake Hewett and Shane Thompson.

Peach said expectations were clear; “ To play finals and go as deep as we possibly can.”

“We are trying new things, experimenting a bit and put together a new forward line structure to play to our strengths,” he said.

“We’ve matured as a group and we’ll be better in a whole host of areas.”

Peach said the Eagles took an important first step to becoming a contender last season.

“We were competitive in 80 per cent of games, should have won a few more games but the young group will have learned from it and we’ll start to develop what it takes to win tough games,” he said.

IMPERIALS: Blues set to bounce from bottom quickly

The Imperial Football Club enters the 2018 season in an unfamiliar position.

The Blues missed the finals and finished on the bottom of the table.

Imperials have gone to former AFL star Scott McMahon to lead the Blues on their journey back to the top.

McMahon, a former AFL player at North Melbourne and a two-time premiership player at Sturt, comes to the club with not only his playing ability but a wealth of knowledge to share with the young Blues side.

McMahon said he’s enjoyed his first preseason at Imperials and believes preparation for the Blues’ rise back up the table has gone well.

“The club has been unbelievable people-wise – the support I’ve had has been unreal,” he said.

“And what I’ve noticed is that players are that disappointed about last year … so they’ve trained hard, listened, learned and want to get off the bottom of the ladder.”

McMahon said his focus will be on getting Imperials back into the finals and said there was no external pressure associated with taking on the job of a bottom-placed team.

“The pressure from outside or inside the club won’t be as much as I put on myself coaching wise – I’ll put even more on myself as a coach that I did playing at the highest level,” he said.

McMahon said he was comfortable with the ability of his playing list to achieve their goals.

Imperials introduce a proven goalkicker in Johnny Boras into the line up, who is coming off seasons of 58 and 80 goals for Torrens Valley in Hills division one.

“Boras the big full forward we lacked … he’s a big player with good hands,” McMahon said.

Gareth Williams also returned to Imperials to give their midfield some grunt and experience while Imperial supporters will also be excited about the return of one of the club’s favourite sons in Luke Harrowfield.

McMahon was full of praise of Harrowfield and believes his worth ethic will rub of onto the younger Imperial players.

“He’s just a worker … he puts his boots on every Saturday and just goes to work, offensively and defensively,” he said..

McMahon said he was able to sneak up and watch a few games last year, where he got a good gauge of what was needed, was able to address deficiencies and was confident of improvement in 2018.