By Mitch Guy
IT’S down to the business end of the Alberton Football Netball League 2016 season and the premiership race is wide open.
After Dalyston’s dominance last year, spectators have been pleased to see a much more even competition this season, with a genuine battle for the supremacy.
The uncertainty of the league as a result of AFL Gippsland’s review has overshadowed the season, but there has been some cracking contests so far and we can look forward to a hard-fought finals series.
With the bye this round, the Sentinel-Times had a look at the final hopefuls.
• plays DWWWW, Phillip Island, Fish Creek and Foster
The Sea Eagles have been huge bolters this season, losing just two matches so far – an 11-point loss to Stony Creek in Round 4 and a five-point loss to Dalyston in Round 7.
The improving side has impressed onlookers throughout the competition, with a bevy of new recruits combining with the club’s exciting home-grown talent to form a strong team.
For the first time in many years there is competition for spots in the senior side and a number of regular senior players have spent time in the Reserves during the season.
Recruit Toby Mahoney has proven to be a revelation up forward with 37 goals, forming a lethal combination with veteran Lucas McMillan, who is enjoying the added support up forward and has booted 36 majors.
Dylan Clark’s return from the VFL has added versatility to the Sea Eagles’ line-up, Daniel Reid has been a great addition to the midfield and coach Ben Soumilas’ brother, Andrew has been a very handy mid-season pick-up.
• plays Phillip Island, Tarwin, Inverloch-Kongwak and Stony Creek
Last year’s grand finalists have taken their game to another level this season and are a genuine contender for this year’s flag.
The Kangaroos have a good spread of contributors across the ground and are not relying on one or two players to kick a bag of goals each week.
Youngster Ethan Park continues to impress, new recruit Thomas Cameron has dominated during the year and if Matthew Kreymborg is available to play for Fish Creek during the finals, watch out.
• plays Stony Creek, MDU, Phillip Island and Tarwin
The reigning premiers dropped a couple of early matches which might come back to bite them in the battle for a top two spot.
Aside from the minor blemishes, it’s business as usual for the consistent Magpies, who have battled injuries at times.
Former Carlton buddies Brad Fisher (25 goals) and Bret Thornton (23 goals) continue to play key roles for their side, while small forward Chris Graham has stepped up after the departure of goal-kicker Michael Kraska, booting 27 goals.
Matthew Whittaker has been a strong addition to the side down back, while Michael Marotta is finding plenty of the ball in his first full season of senior footy.
• plays MDU, Korumburra-Bena, Stony Creek and Inverloch-Kongwak
Foster has gone from missing last year’s finals to a premiership chance in playing coach Nick Connellan’s first year at the helm.
The inclusion of star Michael Cooke in Round 6 has boosted the Tigers’ chances, and Joel Hanlon has been dangerous up forward with 31 goals.
Big man Matt Clark has added a presence to the side, Callan Van Dyke has been a welcome return and Rhett Moor has been one of the best defenders in the competition.
A final-round showdown with Inverloch-Kongwak could be a finals-like contest, which could determine whether the Tigers snatch second or top spot.
• plays Tarwin, Allies, Toora and MDU
Losses in the last two weeks have hurt Kilcunda-Bass, who have shown a huge improvement from last season.
Midfielders Ryan Fitzgerald and Chris Endres are relishing playing together again and cause their opposition headaches, while the return of Kael Bergles has seen the livewire lead the goalkicking by a country mile with 74 majors.
The Panthers should win their final four matches of the season and will be ready come finals time.
• plays Dalyston, Toora, Foster and Fish Creek
The Lions have a tough run home with matches against three of the top four sides, but their solid form throughout the season has given them a three-game lead over the seventh-placed Phillip Island.
Ruckman Josh Schelling has had a dominant season, while Cam Stone has fought injuries but impressed during his six matches.
New recruit Kerem Baskaya has booted 41 goals for the Lions and youngster Will Collins has impressed in the senior side.