IN + UNDER – SEASON PREVIEW – PREMIER DIVISION

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By Matt Fotia

It’s back.

This weekend our 18 month wait for local football will finally end, as Division One, Two and Three begin their respective battles for ultimate glory.

The landscape will have changed, with football shrinking in its overall importance in recent times, but once that first ball is bounced (thrown up) a sense of normality will have returned to the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.

There’s new clubs, new structures, new rules, new players and new coaches, so to help you break it down, the first edition of our new weekly column – In and Under – will go through each of the divisions (Monday through to Friday) and give you a Riser, a Slider and a Supriser

Premier Division

Let’s start at the top of the tree.

Now an 11 team division with the addition of Berwick to the league, Premier Division once again shapes up to be a very high and enjoyable standard of football, despite the changes to the salary cap.

Doncaster East will finally make their long awaited debut in the division, whilst their local rivals Doncaster will be out to avenge a very disappointing 2019.

Plus, Noble Park will be eyeing off a return to finals under new leadership and the usual suspects will consider themselves contenders once again.

Riser – Norwood look set to return to the promised land (finals) in 2021.

The Wooders have been in the September wilderness since their 2015 grand final loss to Balwyn and once again fell short of the mark in 2019 despite looking in the box seat with a handful of games to go.

They’ve been hyper active on the recruitment front since then and have added a number of very good players ahead of 2021, with a particular eye on some VFL quality players such as Port Melbourne ruckman Michael Wenn who will add some muscle to the Norwood on ball unit.

Norwood Legend Leigh Williams is off to Seville – Davis Harrigan Photography

The number one question mark hanging over the Wooders will be how they replace goal fiend Leigh Williams (transferred to Seville in the AFL Outer East), who has consistently won games for the folks at Mullum Mullum for almost a decade.

However with all that’s happened in the past 18 months the stage is set for the next class of Norwood players to stamp their authority on the competition and finals in 2021 is the first big step.

 

Slider – Balwyn are one of a few Premier Division clubs that have been hit hard across the lengthy break between games.

Rennie Gilchrist, Jackson Weatherald, Liam Frazer, Marc O’Reagan, Ryley Monkhorst and Cameron Manuel headline the departures from Cherry Road, meaning the Tigers are set for a minor transition in the coming season.

They’ve still added a handful of quality players to their list – as is their want – but the Tigers team we see in 2021 will be a very different looking side to one that consistently competed in the 10’s.

They won’t fall completely off the finals radar, but I don’t see them pushing the likes of Vermont and Blackburn in 2021.

Surpriser – Berwick will quite literally be a surprise to all teams in this competition, barring maybe Rowville and Noble Park who have had some irregular practice matches against the Wickers in recent times.

But despite their unknown quality many pundits and punters alike have been quick to rule a line through the Wickers for 2021, but I suspect Berwick will surprise a few this year.

Madison Andrews is a Berwick ball magnet.

Their list – whilst ageing – is chock full of talent, with the likes of James Magner, Travis Tuck, Ash Smith and Madison Andrews still doing their thing week in, week out.

They’ve got excitement in their forward line with live-wire Harrison Money sure to thrill onlookers.

They will have more than enough run and carry with Lucas Jellyman-Turner, Anthony Vella, Trent Thomas and co working the outside and defensive stalwarts like Will Arthurson and Jarrod West will keep the scorers at bay.

Their home track – Edwin Flack Reserve – is another factor, with its wide open spaces something not seen by many EFNL clubs before.

The Wickers could be anything in 2021 and I don’t see them being the easy beats many predict.

Ladder Prediction

  1. Vermont
  2. Blackburn
  3. Norwood
  4. South Croydon
  5. Balwyn
  6. Rowville
  7. Noble Park
  8. Berwick
  9. Doncaster East
  10. Doncaster
  11. North Ringwood

 

I think we are set to see a few divisions within the Premier Division in 2021.

Vermont and Blackburn look set to keep the rest of the competition at arm’s length, with the remaining three finals spots ready to be raffled off by Norwood, Balwyn, Rowville, South Croydon and Noble Park.

Doncaster East and Berwick will be fine thanks to some mature bodies and for all of Doncaster’s recruiting work, most of their signings will be playing in the new VFL competition more often than not and won’t be able to drag the Sharks right up the ladder.

I’ve got North Ringwood as the unlucky side to go down at the end of the year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll roll over at any point.

2021 is set to be one of the best top flight seasons in a long while and I can’t wait.

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