Which clubs have recruited well, who has departed and who might be the big improvers?
You can be the judge, but here are some of the facts about the KNTFL’s 11 clubs in the 2018 season, which kicks off with round 1 this Saturday.
Round 1 matches are: Lucindale v Bordertown, Naracoorte v Keith, Padthaway v Bordertown, K/L United v Kybybolite, Penola v Kingston, Mundulla bye.
Lucindale (1st in 2017) will be looking to repeat its superb performance to beat red hot favourites Mundulla in last year’s grand final.
The Roos will have a new look side under new coach Ryan McInerney, a dual premiership player and league medallist, with assistance from fellow key midfielder Nick Cane.
Last year’s coach Sam Logan has moved on, and the Roos have also lost ruckmen Mark Snowball (retired) and Patrick Baker (Hallet Cove), but they believe they’ve kept together most of their impressive list. The Roos are tight-lipped on any new recruits.
McInerney said the Roos’ game would be built on “hard contested football and adding some speed on the outside”.
“We’re really excited with the next generation of young player and youth, that will inject a lot of skill and speed into our game,” he added.
McInerney said the club had well and truly moved on from last year’s success and was now focussed on 2018, aiming to play finals and introduce new, young players to the side.
He said the greatest competition for this year’s flag might come from Keith with the big names it’s added to the playing list, while Kaniva/Leeor United also sounded like shaping up strongly.
Mundulla (2nd) went all the way before falling at the last hurdle last year, and the Moots will be keen to go one better under reappointed non-playing coach Tim Williams.
But they’ll have to do it without a number of handy A graders and fringe players from last year, including Grady and Josh Obst, Sam Luckett, Jamie Grosser, Daniel Burgess, Riley Williams and Charlie Wiese.
Offsetting those losses are Nick Gregurke, Elliot Jaeschke, Wade Broadstock and Harrison Berry. Coach Williams believes that despite the missing players, one of the team’s main strengths will still be its midfield which “will be very solid with a young, fit team to support them”.
Williams said the squad was fit and getting good numbers to training, and a realistic aim for the A grade side this year was to play finals, hopefully top three.
Penola (3rd) will have a very different set-up to recent years. Successful coach and full forward Adam Merrett has stepped down and been replaced by non-playing former reserves coach Matt Tilby, and the playing list will have some changes.
Matt Berkefeld has been recruited from Kalangadoo along with Baylee Morton from the Picola league, while the losses look set to include traveller Dylan Williams and key position player Drew Clayfield. The movement of other players is not yet known.
The Eagles are always around the mark and if Merrett is fit and firing in the goalsquare, they will be a tough proposition for opponents again.
Keith (4th) has created a lot of buzz with the arrival of new coach George Thring straight from the SANFL and the return of former century goalkicker and league medallist Ben Simounds.
The Crows were knocked straight out of the finals last year, but only lost three games through the minor round and implemented a new SANFL style of zone football under coach Gavin Hughes, which Thring will likely just tweak this year.
The Crows have lost key position player Toby McAllister but more than made up for that with the arrival of former Kyby utility Bill Laurie. In all, the Crows will have a strong list and if Thring can have an impact as a playing coach, they will be very hard to beat for premiership favouritism.
Kybybolite (5th) has had a lot of player movement under reappointed non-playing coach Tim Leehane. The Tigers have gained some very handy ins with well-credentialled Loccy McGregor from the Eagles in SANFL and SA country rep Matt Tonkin from Langhorne Creek, while former AFL player Angus Monfries will make a handful of guest appearances.
But the Tigers have lost travelling players Cam McPherson, Charles Murrie, Nathan Stark and Steve Craig, and are unsure of the plans of ruckman Dave Arnold. Tall Max Schinckel has also moved on.
The Tigers showed some promising signs in trials at Meningie and Robe, but will get a stern test first-up against KLU over at Kaniva.
Padthaway (6th) will see the return of full forward Scott Welsh coming back to where he won two premierships to take charge of a side with a number of changes.
Recruits include 2015 grand final best on ground Luke Harder, as well as Daniel Bartlett, Dylan Vanzini and Kyle Tucker, but the losses are considerable – Liam Sutton, Darcy Boyanton, Jake Battifuoco, John Brice, Wade Thompson, Kieron Hicks.
Welsh said he was confident the Lions would have an even spread across the ground.
“Our defence has been solid for a few years now which is the the case this year. We have a number of players who can run through the midfield and be damaging up forward so we will be looking to attack more this season.”
Welsh said most of the players should feel very confident with their fitness levels leading into round 1 and he couldn't be more happier with the way they have attacked every session over the summer.
Kaniva/Leeor United (7th) is up and about. Could the Cougars be a smokey for the club’s first ever KNTFL premiership this year? The Cougars have been able to keep together virtually all of last year’s stars and have added a couple more in an effort to rise from a promising seventh place finish in 2017.
Reappointed playing coach Nick Murphy will again have the services of travelling stars Toby Stribling, Cam Hitchcock, Cam DeVisser, Cohen Thiele and ruckman Nathan Bowles, while the only reported player loss is former junior star Billy King.
The Cougars have also recruited former SA country captain Tarquin Brown from Victor Harbor and ex-Glenelg and South Adelaide player Shannon Snook, who both come with strong reputations.
Murphy believes that with most of the senior list having spent a few seasons together, they will be able to implement a more effective defensive structure, and he’s also been thrilled with the club’s pre-season.
“The players and the coaching staff feel we are well prepared to launch into our 2018 season,” he said.
Murphy named a top three position as a realistic goal for the Cougars this season, and said Keith and Lucindale would be his picks as the teams to beat.
Kingston (8th) will be bolstered by an influx of new players as they attempt to build on a promising 2017.
Second-year non-playing coach Brad Richardson has lost a couple of good players in Ben Kilsby and Mark Harrison, but has a long list of recruits who he hopes will add depth to the senior playing list.
Recruits include Sam Foutoulis, Conor Healy, Max Wakefield, Ben Kernahan, Steve Branson, Josh Branson, Darren Vertudaches - from a range of backgrounds and clubs - as well as ex-locals Kurtis Baker and James Wiseman.
Kingston climbed the ladder somewhat last year, winning eight games to finish eighth after enduring some lean seasons before that.
Richardson, who will be assisted by experienced junior coach Matt Pedlar, hopes the new players will create better depth and competition for senior spots, as well as add to the young Saints’ running game.
Rating pre-season training numbers as “reasonable”, Richardson said there had been an emphasis on structures and ball movement.
He said the A grade side was simply aiming to be competitive over four quarters in every game this season and let results look after themselves.
As far as teams to beat in 2018, Richardson felt the top five from last year will be around the mark again, with Kaniva/Leeor United to be stronger. Overall he said it seemed like the whole competition had improved.
Naracoorte (9th) is aiming to turn around its fortunes after a couple of leaner years with the appointment of former Adelaide Crow Chris Ladhams as coach.
Ladhams has been plying his trade as a small forward in country and amateur leagues for years and comes to the Demons with a wealth of playing and coaching experience. He kicked 100 goals for Nairne Bremer last year.
Ladhams will be joined by a number of new players, including Nathan Davey, Joe Foster, Cameron Hughes, Sean Magee, James Moss and Joshua and Matt Reeves. Ruckman George McWaters looks set to play again after a year off and several ex-players such as Robert Jones are back in the fold.
The Demons are sure to improve on last year’s ninth placing.
Bordertown (10th) has started to rebuild after last year’s big slide down the ladder, with a new coach and some returning key players likely to see the Roosters line up quite a bit stronger.
Cam Sandercock has come from Border Districts to coach the A grade, with a strong background in the league winning multiple best and fairest awards and league jumpers with both Kybybolite and more recently Border Districts. He will be assisted by Jamie Weatherald and Shane Orrock
New recruits include Tom and Sam Underwood (injured). The Roosters will enjoy the return of on-baller and former premiership player Steve Copestick, Owen Butler, Jonty Searle and Brad Paech. The club will also see the return of some former junior footballers including Adnan Geeves, Josh and Shaun Frances.
The Roosters have been able to keep most of the junior footballers who have progressed into senior football and a couple who have shifted to Adelaide for schooling are prepared to travel back this season to play. Pre-season has been excellent with good numbers on the track, and a lot of the younger players have hit the gym over summer and are looking more solid.
Border Districts (11th) will be led for the second year by non-playing coach Darrin Wilson.
The Eagles have as always been active on the recruiting front, being joined by Brayden Denmead, James Baron, Nathan McIver, Shawn Mansell and Daniel Starr.
Unfortunately the player losses include several of last year’s main players, in Bart Nolan, Clinton Robinson, ex-coach Cameron Sandercock, David Bray and Matt Ballinger.
Eagles officials are hoping that with their recruits, they have a good balance with size, pace and hardness at the contest.
The club has been pleased with the work players have been putting in on the track during pre-season. The club was very hopeful of getting under 17s up and going again but has unfortunately fallen short with numbers to make this happen.
The club said a realistic aim for the A grade was to be competitive every week and see where that takes them.
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