It’s been a very long time since the very talented teams in Division 1 have played any football. I feel like a dazed Kyle Reece asking a local cop “What year is it?” when it comes to deciphering where I am on the Gridiron Victoria calendar. Discombobulated as I am, I never the less forge ahead, giving you my best first up effort for Gridiron DownUnder’s GV Division 1 Previews. Let’s hope I throw the ball as well as I sling dated Terminator references.
Saturday July 15 – Ranger Field, Croydon
Geelong Buccaneers (2016: 4th Place, 7-5) vs South Eastern Predators (2016: 6th Place, 2-10)
Last Time: Week 11, 2016: Buccaneers 42, Predators 0
The Geelong Buccaneers are coming off a season that saw them in the playoffs for the 8th consecutive year, despite an aging playing group held together with Daniel Noonan’s untrustworthy left arm. Word on the street is that playing numbers are down and legendary runningback and 2-time VGOA Best and Fairest Daniel Barnett has hung up the boots, which could spell doom for this franchise in 2017. Geelong are an extremely proud and hard-working organisation however, and an influx of youth from their talented junior program juxtaposed with the guidance of the remaining old heads should see this team remain competitive in Division 1. They won’t hide away in the cold Corio night (Unlike some other teams with similar problems).
The Beasts from the South East are another team who will be looking to players from their all-conquering Colts team to make the jump in 2017, and spearhead their climb up the ladder. Championship Juniors such as Lachlan Haynes and Liam McGrath, along with the return of last year’s Team MVP Ty Henry, will help solidify this improving squad and should see a better return for effort than the 2 wins posted last year. Despite my man love for the Dude they call Noonan, I’m going with a young, hungry Predators squad to take out the proud Buccs in what should be a quality opening week encounter.
Stafford’s “Dude Love” Prediction: Predators 20, Buccaneers 12
Croydon Rangers (2016: 3rd Place, 7-4-1) vs Western Crusaders (2016: Runner-Up, 9-3)
Last Time: 2016 Semi Final: Crusaders 20, Rangers 8
Croydon come into 2017 with a new Head Coach in Mel Martin and plenty of new faces. Similar to Geelong, the decade long reign near the top sees a list with a ton of veteran experience supplemented with youthful inexperience, and not a whole lot in between. The resulting lack of depth may prove to be in issue as the season wears on, but as always they will be ably led by club stalwarts Mark Doyle, Liam Fordham, and that dickhead in Number 19. The return of 2015 VGOA Best and Fairest Jordan Beck will help solve the running game woes from a season ago, and former Princeton Wide Receiver Trevor Osborne will prove to be more than a handy imported addition to the passing game.
The Crusaders have probably enjoyed the finest off-season of any club, with off-field recruitment driving their numbers up so that they could establish an additional team to play in the Division 2 competition. That is a credit to their recruitment efforts over the summer and the club should definitely be commended. Kudos to all the hard working peeps in Crimson.
After last year’s VicBowl defeat at the hands of Monash, I expect the Cru to come out swinging and be the hungriest team on the field this year. Their incredible athletic defence led by Jnala Saluni, Andrew Chung and Harrison De Lai will again be a handful, and the pickup of Brad Ferguson from the now defunct Berwick Miners to handle duties under centre will prove to be a master stroke on the offensive side. For this week’s contest, I will continue my traditional cowardice and offer neither a score nor a winner. Upset? Fire away in the comments. J
Stafford’s “God Hates a Traditional Coward” Prediction: Rangers ??, Crusaders ??
Sunday July 16 – Royal Park, Parkville
Melbourne University Royals (2016: 5th Place, 5-6-1) vs Monash Warriors (2016: Champions, 11-1)
Last Time: Week 8, 2016: Warriors 24, Royals 22
The lads from Melbourne Uni are another team coming into the 2017 season with a brand new Head Coach. John Trana comes into the club with a great reputation from his time coaching in Italy and Sweden, and will be hoping to lead an improved outfit into the Division 1 playoffs for the first time. The Royals have been knocking on the door the last 2 seasons, and with the continued development of players like Tokoa Tangatakino and Josh Canning, along with veteran leadership in Prince Coleman and Alex Franklin, this potential is poised to become a reality this year.
The Monash Warriors have been the benchmark of Gridiron Victoria since the turn of the century and show no signs of slowing down. In the familiar role of defending their championship once again, they will lean heavily on the best offensive line in the league, anchored by Jon Tostevin, best runningback in the league in Luke Jackson, and an intelligent, swarming defence. Their level of execution in all three phases of the game is unmatched and they will again start as heavy favourites to win their 12th Championship.
Having said all that, I’m picking them to lose this week.
Stafford’s “Contradictory and Thesaurus” Prediction: Royals 30, Warriors 28
Happy Football this week everybody, hope you enjoy the games at all venues. As was the case last year, I will be publishing the Gridiron Victoria Players of The Week feature every Tuesday, for both Division 1 and 2, following the weekend’s games. If you would like your club represented in this feature, please hit me up on Facebook with your club’s player of the week on a Monday, along with their stats.