Cougars become the hunted


RELATED COVERAGE: Gormy exodus shakes up NGFNL netty

KEY signings, player movements, the departure of Boisdale/Briagolong from the competition and five new coaches, including three first year senior coaches, herald plenty of changes in the North Gippsland Football Netball League.

Many are tipping this season’s silverware to be as hotly contested as the 2013 premiership race, which saw eight of 10 sides in with a shot at a top five berth to the last round.

With an even competition forecast, it might be the year for an outside smoky to take the flag.

Yarram is a likely contender; astute recruitment by Anthony Pavey has addressed the Demons’ shortcomings from their debut season, and if their performance a week ago in the opening round is anything to go by they will push deep into finals action.

Sale City’s chances are also a hot topic as Hayden Burgiel, in his second season as coach, has again orchestrated a number of movements at the kennel to continue his side’s rapid improvement.

Leading the pack in last season’s premiership race, runners-up Heyfield look the goods again with a strong list which remains relatively unchanged.

Reigning premier Churchill will be a formidable opponent, likewise Rosedale which will be out for redemption following last year’s disappointing straight sets departure from the premiership race.

Glengarry will not have its wings clipped despite the departure of several key 2013 premiership stars, and in the south Woodside is keen to make an impact on shaping the top five.

Cowwarr and Gormandale had their moments in 2014 and will be out to impress, while ex-Essendon player Jay Neagle will have plenty to prove in his first season at the helm of Traralgon Tyers United.

EVERYONE will be out to emulate Yarram when the NGFNL season continues this weekend, after the Demons decimated Woodside by 85 points on Good Friday.

The remaining eight sides will take to the field on Saturday to conclude the split opening round, with no bigger clash scheduled than the grand final replay.

Achieving ‘mission impossible’ on grand final day, Churchill toppled the unbeaten Heyfield and will unfurl the premiership flag ahead of the replay.

While the disappointment of last year no doubt lingers, Kangaroos coach Damien Birss will not prescribe the results of past grand final losses as motivation.

“The past doesn’t make a difference. Each year is different, and this year will be a different story, with the competition having improved. There is likely to be five to six clubs that will be reasonable and up there,” Birss said.

Glengarry premiership player Robbie Cahill will be pitted against Cowwarr’s Luke Cooper when the Magpies and Saints collide.

No stranger to the coaching caper, Cahill, who has taken the reserve and thirds sides, will have a challenge ahead as he looks to return the Magpies to the success of past seasons, while Cooper would be expecting nothing less than a finals berth.

With both sides coming off disappointing showings in 2014 a spirited contest is expected.

“We are definitely confident of our chances against Cowwarr, we feel that they are at the same level as us, they have lost a couple as well and are a young list also,” Cahill said.

“We have added speed into our line-up for the season, we know that one of our shortcomings last year was that we were slow, so we are confident that we will be able to move the ball quicker and hopefully come away with the points.”

Holding his cards close to his chest, Gormandale coach Luke Henderson is giving little away ahead of his side’s opening clash against Traralgon Tyers United.

Noting spectators can expect a significantly faster paced line-up due to the recruitment of some silky young runners, the third year coach has “freshened up” his playing list complemented by older brigade members Luke Hegarty, Daniel Domaille, Steve Burgess, Wayne Henry and Paul Richards.

“Playing TTU first up is exciting, we know that they underperformed last year, and will pose a real challenge,” Henderson said.

“Last season we evened the ledger at a win apiece against them, and we wouldn’t be expecting anything less than a fierce and fast match.”

In one of the biggest signings of recent seasons, former Essendon footballer Jay Neagle returns to the Latrobe Valley where he was drafted at pick 39 under the father-son rule in the 2005 AFL Draft to take to the helm of TTU.

Following the disappointment of last season, TTU captain Luke Middleton said the Bombers were focused on Neagle’s new game plan.

“We obviously had a disappointing year, I know that it is clich , but to use an old football saying we will be taking it one week at a time,” Middleton said.

“The message from Jay all pre-season is to take things a week at a time and improve on the things that are in our control.

“To start the year positively and get the four points against Gormandale would be great, but long term our aim is to stick to the structures that we have been working on and hopefully that in turn will bring success.”

A favourite son will return to the ranks of Rosedale with Ben Macreadie back in a playing-coach role.

It will be a baptism of fire in his debut match when he comes up against old hand and strategic mastermind, Hayden Burgiel, who instilled a changing of the guard 12 months ago at Sale City.

Securing a preliminary final berth, the Dogs were up and about, and key signings for the season ahead has resulted in many touting the Dogs as one of the sides to beat.

With a number of signings under their belt, including key man David Piasente who will complement an embarrassment of riches in the engine room, the Dogs are a threatening prospect.

“It will be a hard hit out against City, we know that they have picked up a few and are proving to be the team to beat. To start the season off against City is a great challenge for us,” Macreadie said.