Seven teams are still in the running for finals at the halfway mark.
The Border Mail hands down its mid-year report card.
BEST PLAYERS: Chris Hyde, Luke Packer, Shaun Daly
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: The development of the youngsters. Although the best three are all in their 30s, the emergence of Dylan McDonald, Jake Page and Co has been exciting. The Tigers have never had a reputation for blooding teenagers over their nine-season domination, but they’ve had nine debutants, including five from the under 18s.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Consistency over four quarters. The Tigers play some blinding terms, but then clock off for short periods. Mind you, heaven help the opposition if they can unlock the key to four strong quarters.
MARK (OUT OF 10): 8 – docked a point for the Wodonga loss, but still the team to beat.
PREDICTED FINISH: Premiers
BEST PLAYERS: Matt Kelly, Michael Bordignon, Michael Newton
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Everyone contributing. The Pies have got the best key forwards in Michael Newton and Josh Porter, a quality midfield and a superb defence. It will be interesting though to see the impact once the hard-working Porter leaves overseas mid next month for university studies. The nuggety Kelly has got his body cherry-ripe and is starring, while underrated ruckman Zac Leitch has stepped up and plays on the edge.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Coach Dean Stone wants his team to be bold and brave. It’s hard to hold your nerve at times, particularly under pressure, so the Pies will look to live that philosophy to the letter in the run home, and the skill level should improve at the same rate.
MARK: 9 – haven’t played finals for six years and are eyeing a grand final.
PREDICTED FINISH: 3rd. Porter’s workrate is crucial and if he wasn’t heading overseas, with uncertainly over any finals appearances, the Pies would be favourite to grab the other grand final spot.
BEST PLAYERS: Mark Whiley, Matt Gorman, Connor Hargreaves
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Despite a raft of injuries, the Pigeons have never been blown away. Their three losses to Albury, Wodonga and Lavington have been five, 21 and two points respectively. Still, since Yarrawonga’s emergence as a powerhouse in 2009, it’s extremely rare for the club to lose three of four games. The defence, led by Hargreaves, has been outstanding, with the second-best record.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The forward line. Co-coach Chris Kennedy says he’ll take responsibility for that. The Pigeons have had a stack of forward entries, but haven’t been able to capitalise. The club needs more from the mercurial Jess Koopman, Also, much has been made of Lavington’s injury toll last week, but the Pigeons are missing almost as many, including Tyler Bonat and Tim Cooper.
MARK: 7.5 – surprised to have lost a third of its games, but injuries are severe.
PREDICTED FINISH: 2nd.
BEST PLAYERS: Jarrod Hodgkin, Dylan Beattie, Steve Murray
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Consistency at home. The Bulldogs are undefeated there from five games. The club’s depth has also improved markedly. At the start of the year, the Bulldogs had the least amount of A graders from the top seven. Heidelberg recruit Jarrod Hodgkin has graduated to that level and while ex-VFL forward Murray hasn’t kicked as many goals as some thought, he spends time as a high half-forward.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Away form. It’s only one win from four, against the battling Corowa-Rutherglen. The loss to Raiders was extremely disappointing.
MARK: 9 – outstanding effort. Didn’t recruit high-profile players, so couldn’t have expected better than six wins. And, remember, one ended Albury’s 23-match winning run.
PREDICTED FINISH: 5th.
BEST PLAYERS: Marty Brennan, Jack Nunn, Brant Dickson (until injured)
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Lavington’s best footy has been as good as it’s played during coach James Saker’s six-year reign. The Panthers have tweaked their style to adopt greater attack. The club has been missing as many as half the senior squad.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Luck with injuries. At times, the Panthers haven’t had a star forward from their last two years – Justin Koschitzke, Adam Prior, Andrew Dess, Luke Garland and Adam Flagg.
MARK: 8.5 – given the lack of firepower and injuries, Saker has coached superbly and the players have responded.
PREDICTED FINISH: 4th.
BEST PLAYERS: Brodie Filo, Jydon Neagle, Tom McCaffrey
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: The debut of so many young players. Jake Bradshaw, Hayden Clarke, Dylan Clarke, et cetera. And the group has adapted to senior level, whether the players came from reserves or the junior grades. Also, do yourself a favour and watch at least one game from Brodie Filo. His highlights reel would be as good as anyone.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The ability to restrict the opposition. Raiders sit sixth, but are fifth in points conceded, interestingly two points less than second-placed Wangaratta. But the club turned a corner against the Roos, allowing only one goal. Yes, admittedly, it was against a club desperately short of firepower and luck with injuries, but could it kick-start a run home. Also Brad St John, who was flying before the interleague, had his best game in a month.
MARK (OUT OF 10): 6 – just doesn’t have the size to take down the big guns, as shown by big losses to Albury, Lavington, Yarrawonga and Wangaratta.
PREDICTED FINISH: 6th.
BEST PLAYERS: Lachie Dale, Hugh Wales, Frazer Dale
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Lachie Dale’s form. In a disappointing season, Dale has been a standout. Although still young, he has carried tremendous responsibility and is one of the few players to have improved from last year.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: More involvement from players. Myrtleford snapped a decade-long finals drought last year and, while they lost best and fairest runner-up Christian Burgess to the VFL, it added a handful of players, including Goulburn Valley rep Tim Looby. He’s tried hard, but just hasn’t had the impact many would have thought. Burgess is back on Saturday for the season, but he’ll need to be Buddy Franklin and Patrick Dangerfield to get the Saints back into finals, without a lift from a stack of players. The disappointment of the season and a loss to Wodonga will end the season, with eight rounds left.
MARK: 4 – the only genuine flop.
PREDICTED FINISH: 7th.
BEST PLAYERS: Daniel Leslie, Shaun Mannagh, Ben Lloyd
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: Despite overwhelming odds, the Hoppers continue to work hard. It’s always difficult when a coach leaves during the off-season, with Jason Akermanis quitting in January. Clinton Gilson and Daniel Leslie took over with the club posting wins over the Roos and Rovers. A major positive has been the availability of Shaun Mannagh. He joined VFL outfit Richmond this season and was only expected to play around half the games, but he’s played all but one.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Bridge the gap between the best and worst. There’s been three blowouts, including 141 points against Albury and 136 to Wangaratta in round eight.
MARK: 6.5 – it’s another step in the Hoppers’ rebuild.
PREDICTED FINISH: 8th.
BEST PLAYERS: Sam Carpenter, Sean O’Keeffe, Michael Clark
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: When the workrate is at its best, the Hawks are relatively competitive. Also, veteran Sean O’Keeffe deserves praise for his consistency and determination to improve the younger players by staying back for extra training.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: Some luck with injuries. Cody Schutt has been out with stress fractures in his foot, while Ryan Cobain has missed with a knee complaint. When you don’t pick up any profile players and are relying largely on juniors or district recruits, you can’t afford injuries.
MARK: 5.5 – would have expected to beat North in round seven, but blew it with inaccuracy.
PREDICTED FINISH: 9th.
BEST PLAYERS: Will Robinson, James Lawton, Brent Rose
MOST IMPRESSIVE ASPECT: The form of forwards James Lawton and Will Robinson. Lawton arrived from the Riverina with a big reputation and he’s delivered, although he hasn’t kicked a heap of goals, given the club’s battles. Robinson is a rising star and it just shows how good the duo are when VFL players James Svarc and Mick Mattingly played that one game against Wangaratta, which almost saw one of the great upsets.
WHAT NEEDS WORK: The Roos have been belted by injuries and that’s the last thing you need when you haven’t win since 2015. They have just two chances to snap the drought and will have to throw everything to Rovers on July 1 and North Albury three weeks later.
MARK: 5 – the entire league feels for the Roos, who have never been in a more difficult position.
PREDICTED FINISH: 10th.
Every round has at least two games which has the potential to affect the finals.
However, that will change if Myrtleford falls to Wodonga on Saturday.
The games between the teams ranging from second-placed Wangaratta to the Saints, who are currently seventh, will be terrific to watch.
Wodonga against Lavington in round 11 and Wodonga v Raiders the following week will be critical.
Albury is odds-on to contest the decider, but the other spot hasn’t been this open in years, so we are set for a cracking run home over the final nine rounds.