What a difference a year makes.
Wodonga was widely tipped to win the wooden spoon in 2020 before the Ovens and Murray season was abandoned, but have taken giants strides in the off-season with a host of quality additions.
Coach Jordan Taylor has relocated to the Border from NEAFL powerhouse Southport and has attracted some classy players to join him at the kennel.
Jordan Taylor (Southport), Sam Jewell (Southport), Cody Szust (Norwood), Josh Clayton (Werribee), Isaac Wallace (Claremont), Steve Murray (Benalla), Zac Brain (Barooga), Harry McKimmie (Redan), Mitch Dinneen (Yackandandah), Will Shannon (Yackandandah), Jacob Murphy (Kiewa-Sandy Creek), Ryan Goding (Ipswich), Charlie Morrison (Henley), Ned Quinn (Tallangatta), Hamish O'Brien (Tallangatta), Adam Jorgensen (Nathalia), Harry Pole
Josh Hicks (Kiewa-Sandy Creek), Nick Beattie (Kiewa-Sandy Creek), Chris Lewis (Kiewa-Sandy Creek), Jack Russell (Tallangatta), Bob Russell (Tallangatta), Khyle Goodman (Tallangatta), Damien Jones (Dederang-Mount Beauty), Tom Heagney-Steart (Caulfield), Jackson Heagney-Steart (Mitta United), Marshal Macauley (Coolamon), Shaun Flanigan (Wagga Tigers), Kieren McCarthy (East Wagga-Kooringal)
Hudson Garoni (Werribee), Josh Clayton (North Melbourne)
QUESTION AND ANSWER WITH CODY SZUST
Q: What's been your first impression of Wodonga and the Ovens and Murray?
A: It's been good. It's a lot bigger here than I expected. I come from a small country town in South Australia with a couple of thousand people, so I was pretty shocked to see how big the local area is. It's an exciting young group. This time of year everyone says they're pumped and thinks they can win the flag, but there's some genuine excitement around the group.
Q: Was it a tough decision to come to a club that hasn't had much success in recent years?
A: To be honest, I didn't even think about it. I heard they had finished bottom the year before, but it didn't even cross my mind. They said there were lots of young blokes and it was an exciting group that needed a bit of leadership and some experience. Even though I'm young, I was keen to get on board and bring that energy.
Q: You played with coach Jordan Taylor in the SANFL, how have you found it being coached by him?
A: We made our league debut together in the SANFL together at South Adelaide and we've always been in touch ever since. As a coach, he knows when to be tough and when not to be. He's got a good judgement of how he takes training and he's a good character as well. He's very good at adjusting how he manages different players.
Q: No doubt it would have been quite demanding playing in the SANFL?
A: You train three or four times a week, I was going to uni and doing landscaping on the side. When you're landscaping three or four times a week in Adelaide it's hard work because it gets hot and then I was driving over an hour for training and playing. It was a pretty big commitment. It just takes time away from your family and partner and things like that. You can't really finish your uni work either, so it takes its toll.
Q: Do you plan to get back to SANFL level in future?
A: I'm pretty keen to stay around here and see what happens because I love the area. I definitely still have the aspirations to either go back home and play in the SANFL or VFL. Even at this point in time you can get drafted as a mature-age player. A couple of SANFL clubs have contacted me, but I made the decision to come over here and we'll see what happens at the end of the year.
ALSO IN SPORT:
WHAT LIES AHEAD
CAN WODONGA TAKE IT UP TO THE FINALS CONTENDERS?
They are coming from a long way back, but you've got to start somewhere. Wodonga has done all it can in the pre-season to give itself a shot of winning more games thanks to some excellent recruiting, but it doesn't guarantee success. The Bulldogs look to have gone past North Albury and should be evenly-matched with Corowa-Rutherglen, but it's anyone's guess how they stack up against the rest.
THE BULLDOGS HAVE THE LEAGUE'S LONGEST FINALS DROUGHT (12) YEARS AND WON ONLY ONE GAME TO CLAIM THE WOODEN SPOON IN 2019, HOW DID THEY TURN IT AROUND SO QUICKLY, AT LEAST IN TERMS OF RECRUITS?
The coach. There's a saying, 'build it and they will come'. It's the same for a coach, get a popular one and the recruits follow. The Bulldogs have had their best off-season in years and while there's naturally been a stack of hard work by a number of people, the common denominator is the coach. Jordan Taylor is only 26, but everyone raves about him being a good bloke and one of the most courageous teammates they've ever had. Wodonga is a proud club which has hit tough times over the past decade, let's hope it starts the bounce back this year.
WHO KICKS THEIR GOALS?
Everyone knows a great defence wins comps, but it has to be balanced with the ability to score. Even the best defence, at any level, can't hold up if there's next to no score to defend. Tom Johnson topped the goal-kicking with 27 last time, but Cody Szust was a noted forward in the SANFL, so he should add some firepower. As for others, the Bulldogs have so many new faces, it might take some time to figure out the best combination.
IS IT THE BEST WODONGA HAS LOOKED IN RECENT YEARS?
Absolutely. There's a buzz at John Flower Oval and plenty of energy has been shown from the young group in the pre-season. Wodonga finished a game outside the top five in 2017 with 10 wins, but have only had seven victories since. On paper, they have the ability to at least match the 2018 season which yielded six wins.
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