By Ryan Long
The tide continues to turn for the Surrey Park Panthers, after they finished second in Division Four for the first time in the club’s EFNL history.
The Panthers were the number one challenger to the undefeated Coldstream and appeared to be the front runner to take on the Cougars in the Grand Final that never occurred. They lost just three games for the season, two of those games against Coldstream, whilst the other was an early-season loss to the Zebras.
There’s plenty of talent on their list from their veterans to their first and second-year players. A significant amount of Panthers represented the club in the EFNL Division Four Team of the Year, with Matthew Dompietro, James Pritchard, Matthew Pollock, Logan Deschepper and Mitchell Molnar all making the side.
They’ve been through a lot of pain but after back-to-back seasons finishing inside the top four, this young list is every chance of finally elevating this club out of Division Four.
Best Win: Round 9: Surrey Park 17.10 112 def. Silvan 9.7 61 @Surrey Park Reserve
The Panthers had the Cats measure in 2021, defeating them twice at home including a 51-point thrashing in Round Nine.
It was all set up with a strong defensive opening quarter that kept Silvan scoreless at the first break. They were challenged at times, particularly in the third quarter that helped the Cats get within twenty-one points before a seven-goal final term from the Panthers added to their complete performance.
Their forward line was firing on all cylinders, with Pollock, Haynes, Anderson and Kennedy kicking 10 between them. A type of performance that was resembled weekly this year, a high-pressure defensive game which gave their forwards plenty of opportunities to score through constant delivery inside 50.
Worst Loss: Round 4: Forest Hill 15.13 103 def. Surrey Park 8.15 63 @Forrest Hill Reserve
Arguably their most disappointing result of the season after a positive first quarter. The Panthers let the game slip away in the third quarter as the Zebras kicked six goals to one, setting up the 40-point win. It was 14 goals to six after quarter-time in favour of Forest Hill, with veteran Jake Rowe playing a major part in that, kicking five of those goals.
Surrey Park responded later in the year by turning the tables on the Zebras in a commanding 49-point win at home.
Standout player: Ryan Kennedy
The Vice-Captain led from the front this year, winning the club’s best and fairest award. With a senior side that has a fair number of young players, Kennedy provided plenty of experience and leadership which played a big part in the Panthers top-two finish.
Kennedy was able to hit the scoreboard a lot more often than previous years, finishing with nine goals from ten games. Five times Kennedy found himself in the side’s best players and will be searching for another big year next season as the Panthers search for their first premiership.
With their Reserves finishing on top of the ladder to claim the Minor Premiership, Surrey Park are in a solid position going into the 2022 season.
The club’s younger players were quite consistent each week and their leadership group in the likes of Dompietro, Kennedy and Lacchiana all starred, leading the way. They’ve got a really solid backline and their midfield plays a high-pressure game, not allowing any easy possessions for the opposition team.
Without Coldstream in the same division, next year may be their greatest chance at winning a premiership. If they’re able to pinch an extra experienced midfielder from a higher up division, the Panthers will be hard to beat in 2022.
Women’s Season Review
The first women’s team for Surrey Park ran out onto the field this year in a big success for a club who have focused on an inclusive culture.
The girls won just one game for the season but showed a great deal of promise as they worked on their overall fitness and improved the skills that they started developing last year.
They’ll take a lot of learnings out of the season and look to turn that into some more positive results on the scoreboard in a more consistent year.
Best Win: Round 3: Surrey Park 6.7 43 def. Knox 1.1 7 @Surrey Park Reserve
The Panthers one win for the season was one to be celebrated even more considering where Knox were able to finish on the ladder at the end of the season.
The game was all but over by halftime with Surrey Park kicking five goals to none in the first half and setting up a 34-point lead. It turned into a defensive slog after that with just two goals combined in the second half.
Lily Toomey kicked a season-high three goals while Kara Oakley Smith had two of her own. The standout by far was Emily Cumming who earned three votes for her performance in the midfield, also contributing to the scoreboard.
Worst Loss: Round 9: Kilsyth 11.9 75 def. Surrey Park 1.2 8 @Pinks Reserve
By far the side’s biggest loss of the season. It was the only time that the Panthers had given up more than seven goals in a match, Kilsyth had already kicked seven by halftime, putting the 67-point win into motion.
Despite their 1-9 season record, Surrey Park has developed a strong defensive system, their defence was ranked higher than both Montrose and Heathmont who both finished with more wins than the Panthers.
Unfortunately, they were opened up by Kilsyth and weren’t able to find the scoreboard themselves. Stephenson-Fuss and Milkeraitis combined for eight for the Cougars while Oakley Smith kicked the Panthers’ only major for the afternoon.
Standout player: Emily Cumming
The future looks bright for Emily Cumming who starred for the Panthers, finishing in the best a total of seven times.
Cumming was extremely difficult for opposition teams to control, she finished fourth in the best and fairest with eleven votes. This included three best on ground performances, two of those being losses. She topped off the year by making the EFNL Division Two Team of the Year.
If Surrey Park can work on their consistency and start winning some games, Cumming will be every chance to win a league best and fairest in 2022.
If there’s one thing to focus on over the off-season, it’s their ability to score. Defensively, the Panthers held up well consistently, even against the likes of Ringwood. However, they were the worst-ranked attacking side in the division, averaging just 12 points per game.
Kara Oakley Smith kicked four goals in just a handful of games while Lily Toomey led the goal scoring with five.
If the Panthers can find more avenues to goal without relying on one or two players, they’ll be a much tougher side to match up against.