Mallee Football League 2018 season preview: Will Lions be kings of the Mallee again?

HISTORY MAKERS: Peake won their first A grade premiership in 2017. Can they do it again? Photo: Bron Pahl.
HISTORY MAKERS: Peake won their first A grade premiership in 2017. Can they do it again? Photo: Bron Pahl.

The start of the Mallee Football League is upon us, with round one of the 2018 season kicking off this weekend.

Departing: 2017 Mail Medalist Tyson Jenner will be a big out for Pinnaroo this year.

Departing: 2017 Mail Medalist Tyson Jenner will be a big out for Pinnaroo this year.

The prominant spokeperson for the league, president Lou Boughen, believes the upcoming season will be similar to that of last season, with many of the clubs hovering around the same level of performance.

Boughen said that traditional Mallee powerhouse Border Downs-Tintinara looked like “the team to beat this year", and stated that although Peake had lost a handful of key players during the summer, they should still be able to put up a strong premiership defence.

Peake’s Gabe Phillips foils BDT’s Brett Todds mark

Peake’s Gabe Phillips foils BDT’s Brett Todds mark

Both Lameroo and Pinnaroo will be hoping to be around the mark this season, with their squads containing enough quality and depth to push the best teams in the competition, especially as Pinnaroo look to improve on their grand final loss in 2017.

However, clubs such as Karoonda and Murrayville will struggle to improve their position on the ladder from last season, even though Karoonda are "hoping" to become a more competitive outfit.

In coming: Border Downs-Tintinara key recruit Nathan Stark.

In coming: Border Downs-Tintinara key recruit Nathan Stark.

The league has been struggling with player numbers during the past couple of years, but has stated it's proud to confirm that every club will be able to field competitive junior sides, in both the under 13 and under 16 competitions.

The Mallee Football League has pushed incredibly hard to help preserve both junior grades and allow each club to field a competitive junior side.

Along with stable junior numbers, the league has announced that umpire particaption is looking as strong as it has ever been.

"The Mallee relies heavily on individuals volunteering, and having club members continuously giving up their time to help benefit the game, it's great to see"  Boughen said.

The upcoming season looks to throw up plenty of surprises, with the amount of player turnaround from each club meaning that there will be plenty of new faces in 2018.

One thing that won't be a surprise, is the fact that the 2018 Mallee Football League season will again continue to provide a strong standard of competition at every level.

Border Downs-Tintinara

The Border Downs Tintinara football club are looking to recover from a disappointing 2017 with the appointment of former AFL player, Matthew Dent, as head coach for the 2018 season.

The change of head coach is one of many personnel changes seen within the club, as the team looks to have bolstered their side with some high profile recruits.

The major additions of former Melbourne listed and Kybybolite midfielder Nathan Stark and seasoned forward Scott McKenzie, shows the club’s ambition to contend for their first premiership since 2016.

BDT have also been able to retain the core of their local talent, while having the ability to lure back some former localised players.

The club’s preparation for the upcoming season has been strong, regardless of only playing one official trail game against Keith.

Coach Matthew Dent said he believed that training alongside three other strong country based sides in Adelaide has been beneficial and has allowed for his players to train at a high standard.

Dent, does admit that not being able to constantly train with his full squad was unfortunate, but concedes that most clubs deal with the same problem.

With all factors considered, he was bullish with what his club can achieve in 2018, but knows that he can't assess where his team stands until the season starts.

Round one of the Mallee Football League kicks off Saturday, April 21, and sees Border Downs-Tintinara match up against the reigning premiers Peake, in what promises to be a tantalising game of football.

Peake

The Peake and Districts Football Club will be confident going into the 2018 season, after winning the club's first ever A grade premiership in the Mallee Football League in 2017.

The club will be looking to go back-to-back under player-coach Matt Whitford, even after losing some of their prime movers in the midfield, none more important than local star Nicholas Gregurke who has joined Mundulla during the summer.

The club has also lost the services of 2017 FlowFM Player of the Season, Lachlan Wilson, who has taken his footballing exploits to the Yorke Peninsula.

However, the club has done well to recruit players to fill gaps left by some of the key midfield departures.

One of the big name recruits to join the club in 2018 is former Meningie midfielder Josh Niven, who will look to join a vital midfield partnership with brother Jake Niven.

Niven will provide strong run and carry, while still having the poise to hit targets on both sides of the body, the only question is whether he'll find the same time and space on the much smaller expanses of Peake Oval.

Regardless of player movement, Whitford and his side will see themselve's as a serious contender for the upcoming season.

“Peake for the first time in their history have become the "hunted", knowing that they must continue to improve”

Players such as Gabe Philips, Patrick Gabb and Sam Braidwood will be crucial for their upcoming premiership defence, while the Lions will be hoping that the emergence of young local talent such as Brad Kielow will help keep the team in a strong position for years to come.

Peake for the first time in their history have become the "hunted", knowing that they must continue to improve, or rival teams such as Border Downs-Tintinara, Pinnaroo and Lameroo will be waiting eargerly to overtake them in the race for the 2018 premiership.

Peake will play Border Downs Tintinara in their first match-up of the season, which looks to be a battle between two premiership contenders.

Karoonda

Karoonda will look to turn heads during the upcoming season, as they strive to become a competitive outfit in 2018.

Corey Knight's side looks to have made a mass of smart acquisitions to their side, with up to 12 players coming into the club for the upcoming season.

The key additons of Nathan Brown, Jacob Cowen and Daniel Hoskin will be fantastic for club, as it looks to show that they have ambition to improve on previous sub-par seasons.

As well as outside the league, Karoonda has managed to add depth to their list by gaining the signatures of former Lameroo players Edward Hancock and Ben Quinn, along with the strong-bodied Jake Venning from Murrayville.

Quinn, originally a former Karoonda player, will look to return to the form that was once shown in the black and white during the 2014, a season which saw him represent the inter-league side.

Knight will be disappointed that he was unable to secure the services of local Josh Smithson at the club, who will instead be plying his trade in the Yorke Peninsula.

Smithson featured in the 2017 South Australian Under 18 State Championships, impressing with his strong athletic and match winning abilities.

“Karoonda are the team that are most likely to improve"

- MFL president Lou Boughen

President Lou Boughen previously stated that "Karoonda are the team that are most likely to improve", putting internal pressure on a club which has failed to make a significant impact on finals football for the last couple of seasons.

Player-coach Corey Knight, who finished fourth in last year’s Mail Medal, will look to lead by example in 2018, as they look to become a more consistent side.

Karoonda will meet last years grand final runners up, Pinnaroo, in round one this weekend.

With both sides having large amounts of player turnover in the past 12 months, it will be hard to measure how the two sides will fair against each other in the opening round.

Regardless of external pressure, one thing Karoonda will hope is that their improvement will bring them success in 2018.

Lameroo

Lameroo, who has been one of the most dominant and consistent sides since the leagues inception in 1994, and will be wanting to add to their 10 premierships with Hayden Thorpe at the helm in 2018.

Looking to win their first premiership since 2015, Lameroo has done incredibly well to keep their core list from the 2017 season.

The departures of Tyson Collins, Ben Quinn and Edward Hancock make up the list of only few players that have left the club for this season.

Along with retaining majority of his players, Thorpe has went out to strengthen his side even further, recruiting players such as Roley Boon (Riverland FL), Mitchell Dahlitz (KNTFL) and Taylor Angel (Adelaide FL) – players who he hopes will allow them to potentially close the gap between them and last yea’rs premiers, Peake.

Many of the external voices predict Lameroo to at least "stagnate" when it comes to ladder positition.

While Thorpe's side is still hoping to finish within the top four, the question is whether they are good enough to consistently reach the standards which are predicted to be set by both Border Downs-Tintinara and Peake.

Finals football is completely different to the regular season, and if there is one team that has proven that they are a consistent finals threat, it's Lameroo.

The club’s first three games of the season will be against 2017 wooden spooners Murrayville, Karoonda and Pinnaroo, in what they'll see as a perfect opportunity to start the season 3-0.

Pinnaroo

Pinnaroo will be fielding a nearly unrecognisable side to the one that featured in last year’s Mallee A grade grand final.

A mass player exodus has seen a number of crucial squad members leave, including 2017 Mail Medalist Tyson Jenner, who will swap the Mallee for the Adelaide Plains Football League in 2018.

To make matters worse, the club will also be without star Jack Kenny, who finished second in the 2017 Mail Medal.

Replacing players of that calibre will be difficult, but they'll hope that a couple of new recruits of their own will help fill the gap left by their exiting stars.

The recruitment of Tom Connell from the North Eastern Football League, will hopefully add some stability to their back-half, with his ability to use his work rate to mop up mistakes.

However, losing countless senior players from their 2017 list will no doubt put huge expectations on local stars such as Rory O'Driscoll, Alex Keough and Cejay and Shilo Dabinett.

Like many clubs throughout the Mallee Football League, player retention is difficult, and it will be a challenge for coach Virgo to get the best out of every player in his squad.

There are still an abundance of players on Pinnaroo's list that can make a significant impact at league level, but problem is whether they can sustain a strong level of performance over a long and taxing season.

After such a strong season in 2017, the club will be preparing maniacally to make sure they dont drop off the pace in 2018.

The Suparoos will have a strong opportunity to get there season off to a good start against Karoonda in round one, away from home.

Murrayville

Murrayville unfortunately finished the 2017 season with the wooden spoon.

It is well-documented how the club has struggled to field sides throughout the last couple of seasons, but newly appointed coach Josh Willersdorf has the role to turn the Bulldogs around in 2018.

The former A grade team manager will have a mountain to climb, as they look to improve on previous season which saw them go the entire season winless.

Many people involved with the club believe Willersdorf has a great understanding of the game, a real passion for the club and an eagerness to develop our young list.

The club will hope that the recruitment of Sunraysia trio Adam Funke, Nathan Mole, James Phillips, along with Aidan Quinn and former Border Downs Tintinara key Patrick Hunter, will be enough to make them a competitive side this season.

Fortunately for the club, there has been little to few departures from last years side, with only Jake Venning being a significant out.

“The platform is now set for the club to exceed the expectations that have been set by external voices outside of the club.”

Willersdorf's sides expectations for 2018 are the lowest of any club in the league this season.

The platform is now set for the club to exceed the expectations that have been set by external voices outside of the club.

Premiership's may be out of the picture, but with some new recruits and a new coach, the club should be striving to become a difficult club to play against.

There would be no better way to start the season than to beat Lameroo, a side who will be looking to put behind a poor 2017 season, on their home deck in round one.