Rivals clash on Sunday

LOCAL rivals Sale and Maffra will conclude the opening round of the Gippsland League football season on Sunday.

The match will be the beginning of a tough month for the Magpies, who will play four of last year’s finalists over the first four rounds.

Looking to take its form from the end of 2017 into 2018, hopes are high at Sale for a return to the finals for the first time in three years.

Coach Shane Fyfe will welcome some quality recruits this season, led by twin brothers Mitch and Nic Dowse, who are North Gippsland premiership players with Heyfield. Both will provide the Magpies with drive up the ground.

Another top addition is Brad McKay, who is coming off a season in which he won a premiership with Sale City and was named in the forward line of the North Gippsland team of the year.

The Magpies will be hoping these recruits can help turn their fortunes around, as well as number of young players the club has nurtured.

There have been a familiar pattern for the Magpies’ two recent seasons under Fyfe. In each, they began slowly and ended strongly, only to finish in sixth place both years.

Winning one less match than in 2016, Sale last year finished 10 points outside the top five.

The Magpies won just one of their first 10 matches, to lowly Drouin, in 2017. They again finished strongly, winning six of their final eight matches, including victories over eventual finalists Morwell and Moe.

It was the poor start which again cost Sale the chance of making the finals.

Despite missing the finals, the Magpies weren’t without stand-out players.

Captain Kane Martin had a strong presence in the midfield, also kicking 23 goals, and was rewarded with his fourth club best-and-fairest award, and finishing in a three-way tie for the league best-and-fairest. Martin, forward Jordan Dessent and onballer Michael Todd were selected in the Gippsland League team of the year.

Maffra has had six months to recover from its heart-breaking one-point grand final loss to Leongatha. Having come so close to tasting premiership success again is sure to have served as motivation around the club.

Four-time premiership coach Wayne Butcher will again lead a side which is likely to again be a finals contender.

Maffra has been relatively quiet on the recruiting front.

The Eagles will be boosted by the return of premiership player and club best-and-fairest Michael Coleman after a season at Heyfield, but have lost ruckman Brent Connelly to the VAFA and Charlie Driffield to Heyfield.

Jack Johnstone had a strong year in his first season back at the Eagles in 2017. Playing between defence and midfield, Johnstone won the club’s best-and-fairest.

Johnstone was also named at half-back in the Gippsland League team of the year, with key defender Sam Fleming and onballer Danny Butcher also selected.

Named in attack in the team of the year was Mitchell Bennett, who also won the league goal kicking award, finishing the season with 62 majors, including 11 during the finals.

AN improved Drouin line-up will be tested by Moe on Saturday afternoon.

Looking for their first win since the 2016 finals, the Hawks will be coached by Jordan Kingi.

The Hawks are set to be a better team this season, with onballer Eddie Morris having played for Casey in the VFL. They have also recruited well from Ellinbank and District and West Gippsland league clubs.

Last season was a good one for Moe, which returned to the finals for the first time in nine years, while coach James Blaser was part of the three-way tie for the league best-and-fairest.

Joshua Pearce joins the Lions from Newborough, having kicked 29 and 27 goals in recent Mid Gippsland seasons.

Experienced Daniel Risol has left for Newborough, while Klay Butler, who played in all the Lions matches last year, has returned to Trafalgar.

BAIRNSDALE will host Traralgon on Saturday from 5pm.

The Redlegs, underachievers since returning to the league in 2011, will be led by Darren Martin, who coached Paynesville to the East Gippsland flag in 2013.

The Redlegs have been boosted by the recruiting of Ethan East and Shaun Wyatt, the latter having played for Footscray in the VFL, and the addition of players from East Gippsland clubs. Nick Sing will play for the Redlegs when not playing for VFL club Williamstown.

Preliminary finalists in 2017, Traralgon has lost some of its depth, but is still expected to be pushing for a top three spot.

Midfielder Connor Ambler returns, having played with Casey in the VFL, is a more than able replacement for Matt Northe, who has signed for North Melbourne’s VFL team.

Forward Jesse Jackway joined from Heyfield and Anthony Barrett from Glengarry, while Kody Wilson, who also has VFL experience, will add pace through the midfield.

The 2018 Gippsland Football and Netball Magazine is available for $2 from the Gippsland Times office and local newsagents.