A review of the 2018 Meadows Greyhounds Division 1 season.
The 2018 season followed recent campaigns and proved to be another remarkably competitive year in the top flight of the NFNL, culminating with West Preston-Lakeside becoming the fifth club to lift the premiership cup in the past five years.
Highlighting the evenness of the competition was the fact that half of the Roosters’ defeats in the regular season came at the hands of sides who missed out on the top-five.
Rob Maiorana’s second season at the helm saw the Roosters win nine of their final 10 matches to claim their first flag since 2010 – an outcome that didn’t appear likely at Round 12, when they sat in seventh place on the ladder.
The Roosters won their final six regular season matches, before bouncing back from a poor showing in the qualifying final with three outstanding finals performances to storm to to the premiership.
Sam Glover proved a fantastic acquisition and took out the best and fairest in his first season with the club, while ruckman Mark Kovacevic also made a huge impression in his debut campaign at J.E. Moore Park and claimed best afield honours in the grand final.
Macleod finished the year with an unenviable third-successive grand final defeat – with the cumulative margin in the three deciders just 28 points. The Roos had been looking to send off outgoing coach Garry Ramsay in the best possible way after six years at the helm.
The Roos had been the standout side during the home and away season, finishing with a 16-2 record and ending the campaign four wins and percentage clear of their closest rival.
North Heidelberg made an emphatic return to the top flight and became the first reigning Division 2 premier to play Division 1 finals the following year, with the Bulldogs earning a double chance after winning nine-straight games between Round 9 to 17.
Bundoora and Greensborough rounded out the top-five, but were the first two finalists knocked out of the premiership race – meaning 2018 was the first year since 2012 that neither the Bulls or Boro progressed past the semi finals.
The relegation battle went down to the final week of the regular season, with Hurstbridge and Whittlesea both entering a much-anticipated Round 18 clash with two wins to their name. Four goals from Travis Cloke helped the Bridges to a 26-point in the final game and ended the Eagles’ three-year stint in Division 1.
The Frank Rosbrook Medal was shared by Heidelberg skipper Michael Brunelli and Macleod midfielder Lucas Hobbs. Brunelli backed up after last year finishing runner-up to Matthew Dennis for the award, while Hobbs enjoyed another superb season – one that saw him take out Macleod’s club champion for the third time.
Paul Dirago became the second Northcote Park player in as many years to win the Coaches MVP, following Jordan Perry’s triumph in 2017. Dirago assumed the Cougars’ captaincy and led superbly despite his side missing the finals for the first time in four years.
Shane Harvey won his seventh NFNL leading goal kicker award after booting 63 goals in the regular season. It was the third time the star Bulldog has topped the Division 1 goal kicking, after also doing it four times in Division 2.
Continue below for a season review for each Division 1 team:
Premier (15 wins, 7 losses)
West Preston-Lakeside returned to the top of the NFNL summit with its first premiership since 2010, despite the pre-season departure of Andrew Walker, Shaun Gannon and Mathew Stokes. In their place came a string of VFL talent, including Sam Glover, Mark Kovacevic and Ozgur Uysal – all of whom played a pivotal role throughout the premiership campaign, despite Uysal missing the grand final win with a hamstring injury. The Roosters sat in seventh place on the ladder after Round 12, with a 6-6 record. They then hit their straps and won nine of their final ten matches to claim the flag, which included a gripping nine-point grand final win over Macleod. Despite winning their final six home and away matches to finish in second place on the ladder, the Roosters’ premiership hopes took a massive hit when soundly beaten by North Heidelberg in the qualifying final. A ten-goal masterclass from Ahmed Saad helped them to a 52-point win over Bundoora in the first semi, before Matthew Vincitorio sparked a 70-point trouncing of North Heidelberg in the preliminary final. The momentum was carried into the grand final, in what proved to be another thrilling contest – keeping with the theme of recent Division 1 premiership deciders. West Preston-Lakeside trailed by 14 points early in the third quarter, however four goals in a 12-minute burst prior to time-on helped the Roosters establish an 11-point lead at three quarter time. The final term was a genuine arm-wrestle, with Macleod twice closing within a goal – including at the 23-minute mark. However, a goal to Carl Adams gave the Roosters breathing space and from there they were able to hold on for their first senior premiership in eight years. Ruckman Mark Kovacevic was one of the heroes on grand final day, producing a commanding performance to win the best on ground medal. The Coburg-listed big man finished equal-third for the competition best and fairest, despite playing only nine games in the regular season. But it was in the finals when he truly made his mark – with four outstanding performances. Sam Glover joined the club after spending 2017 with the Northern Blues development side and proved to be a revelation. Clean and composed off half back, Glover formed a strong defensive unit with the likes of Jackson Clarke, Nathan Valladares and Joel McDonald. He edged out Luke Lirosi and Michael Ercolano for the Roosters’ best and fairest, with Clarke and Valladares rounding out the top five. The stats showed that the Roosters fared much better defensively than in 2017, and they were also much more of a threat offensively. Saad was still the main focal point up forward and kicked 65 majors, which included 13 in the finals. However, there was plenty of support, as demonstrated in the preliminary final when the Roosters piled on 17 goals after quarter time, despite Saad being sidelined from midway through the first term. Liam McVeigh – who represented the NFNL in its representative win over the MPNFL – finished the season with 36 majors and saved his best performances for the finals series, which included a four-goal haul in the grand final.
Best and fairest: Sam Glover
Leading goal kicker: Ahmed Saad (65 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jackson Clarke, Sam Glover, Ahmed Saad and Rob Maiorana (coach)
Runner-Up (17 wins, 3 losses)
Macleod was forced to endure the agony of grand final defeat for the third-consecutive year after going down to West Preston-Lakeside in the premiership decider. This year’s nine-point loss followed three and 15-point defeats in the previous two grand finals – with the Roos unable to add to their trophy cabinet, despite winning 51 of 65 games since last lifting the cup in 2015. Macleod was again the standout side in the home and away season – winning 16 of its 18 regular season matches. The Roos won 12-straight matches following an upset Round 1 loss to North Heidelberg, before slipping at home to West Preston-Lakeside on a day the Roosters announced themselves as a genuine premiership threat. Despite that hiccup, Macleod bounced back to have the minor premiership sealed by Round 15 and progressed to its fourth-consecutive grand final with a hard-fought 13-point win over North Heidelberg in the second semi final. Grand final week began positively, with star midfielder Lucas Hobbs becoming the first Macleod player to win the Division 1 best and fairest since 1969. But in a cruel twist of fate, Hobbs was later ruled out of the grand final with a hamstring injury – which was compounded when best and fairest runner-up Ned McKeown succumbed to a knee injury early in the second quarter. Without their two best players, the Roos remained a winning chance until the closing stages of the decider but were kept at bay by a resolute West Preston-Lakeside. Despite the premiership cup alluding the club once again, Macleod had the most representatives in the Team of the Year, with Hobbs and McKeown featuring with Anthony Doherty, Brad Leggett and Justin White. For skipper White it was an unprecedented eight-consecutive selection in the team. Doherty produced his most consistent season at senior level and was the form player of the competition between Round 8 to 13 when he polled 41 of a possible 60 votes in the Coaches MVP award. Patrick Martin continued his emergence as a match-winner and finished the season with a team-high 39 goals, which included an equal career-best seven-goal haul against North Heidelberg in the Queen’s Birthday weekend clash. Macleod managed to keep its place at the top of the ladder while also revitalising its list, with Kurt Manual, Haydon Manual and Luke Joyce all cementing their places in the senior side, while teenager Rourke Turner played 19 games, before being omitted for the grand final. The Roos will enter the 2019 season under a new era, with Garry Ramsay moving on after six years as senior coach and being replaced by Christian Stagliano.
Best and fairest: Lucas Hobbs
Leading goal kicker: Patrick Martin (39 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Anthony Doherty, Lucas Hobbs, Brad Leggett Ned McKeown and Justin White
3rd (13 wins, 8 losses)
A history-making campaign saw North Heidelberg re-establish itself as one of the powerhouse clubs in the NFNL’s top flight. The Bulldogs this year became the first reigning Division 2 premier to play finals in Division 1. The weren’t just making up the numbers in September – finishing third on the ladder before comfortably beating eventual premier West Preston-Lakeside in the qualifying final. Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, their two attempts to qualify for the grand final ended in defeat – firstly in a close loss to Macleod in the second semi, before putting in their worst performance of the year in a one-sided preliminary final against the Roosters. North Heidelberg made a statement of intent in the opening game of the season when it downed Macleod in what seemed a massive boilover at the time – more so when four-consecutive losses followed the result. However, the Bulldogs soon found their feet and won 11 of their final 13 home and away games, which included a nine-game winning streak between Round 9 to 17 – ensuring a top-three finish and a double chance in the finals. The Bulldogs were one of only two sides to beat every Division 1 rival this year, with the Round 11 victory at West Preston-Lakeside and Round 16 thriller over Greensborough among their most notable triumphs. On an individual front, the Harvey brothers continued to wreak havoc on opposition sides. Brent won his second-consecutive club champion award, while Shane topped the competition goal kicking with 63 majors in the regular season, which included an eight-goal haul against old foe Heidelberg at Warringal Park. Jesse Tardio and Michael Florance showed they are more than up to Division 1 football and featured in the Team of the Year – while Liam Hunt, Jhye Baddeley-Kelly and Brandon Bailey all proved to be outstanding recruits and helped steer the club towards the historic finals berth. The efforts of Jimmy House were also recognised, with the first-year coach claiming the AFL Victoria Northern Region Senior Coach of the Year award.
Best and fairest: Brent Harvey
Leading goal kicker: Shane Harvey (72 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jhye Baddeley-Kelly, Michael Florance, Brent Harvey, Shane Harvey and Jesse Tardio
4th (12 wins, 8 losses)
Bundoora was unable to defend its 2017 title, despite reaching an 18th-consecutive finals series. While the powerhouse club wouldn’t take kindly to sliding down the ladder, just making the finals was an achievement given the poor start it made to its premiership defence. The Bulls sat just one spot from the bottom of the ladder at Round 7 as they struggled to deal with a long injury list, which included three-time Frank Rosbrook medallist Matty Dennis. Five-consecutive wins were to follow, which included a 103-point demolition of then fourth-placed Northcote Park in Round 11. But just as the Bulls’ looked to be back on track, they dropped consecutive games on the road to Macleod and Heidelberg to fall a win outside the top-five one month out from the finals. In true Bundoora fashion, the club lifted when it mattered and won its final four matches, before keeping Greensborough to just four goals in a 48-point elimination final triumph. The dream of becoming the first team in a decade to defend a premiership was ended by Ahmed Saad and West Preston-Lakeside, with Saad’s five-goal final term sending the Bulls crashing out of the premiership race. After proving pivotal during last year’s finals series, Scott Dowell put together an outstanding season to win the club best and fairest, despite missing four games. Dale Marshall elevated his game to the next level and was among the top-three in the best and fairest count, while outgoing duo Joe Palazzolo and Josh Grabowski will be sorely missed after also producing strong 2018 campaigns. Grabowski was named vice-captain of Vic Metro in its clash with Vic Country and was one of two Bulls in the Team of the Year, alongside Peter Hood. The former Fitzroy Stars utility also finished tied for third place in the competition best and fairest. Andrew Sturgess was a fine acquisition and will take on an expanded role next year as playing-coach. He replaces outgoing 2017 premiership mentor Ricky Dyson, who will link up with brother-in-law Paul Harris at Banyule.
Best and fairest: Scott Dowell
Leading goal kicker: Gary Moorcroft (49 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Josh Grabowski and Peter Hood
5th (10 wins, 9 losses)
Looked a premiership contender for most of the season, before falling away late in the campaign. The elimination final exit was Greensborough’s worst finish since 2013. Since winning the 2014 flag the Boro have finished, second, third, fourth and, now, fifth and will look to reverse that downward trend to avoid a finals miss in 2019. The 2018 campaign started in positive fashion, with a 27-point triumph over arch-rival Montmorency followed by a 46-point drubbing of Bundoora on the day the Bulls unfurled their 2017 premiership flag. Remarkably, the Boro were the only undefeated side in the competition after two rounds. They remained in second spot at the conclusion of Round 15 and would have fancied their premierships chances after pushing Macleod all the way in both home and away outings. However, three consecutive losses in the final three rounds saw the Boro slip to fifth place, just percentage above Heidelberg in sixth spot. Greensborough had done superbly to stay at the pointy end of the ladder given the injuries sustained to key players throughout the year. Boom recruit Charlie Molyneux played just four of the opening 15 games, ruckman Jake McNamara succumbed to a season-ending knee injury in Round 3, while Dan McLinden managed just 10 games for the year. Adding to that was the absence of Jack Johnston, Josh Callaway and Matthew Haynes for a month midway through the year. Nick Riddle was again a standout and added another best and fairest to his name. The star defender was named at full back in the Team of the Year and represented both Vic Metro and the NFNL. Jacob Ireland enjoyed his best season and finished runner-up to Riddle in the best and fairest count. Tynan Smith proved to be a revelation in the forward half. The NFNL under-19 representative captain played every game in his debut season and booted 24 goals – which included multiple goals on six occasions. Box Hill Hawks forward Billy Murphy became a fan favourite in just six appearances. The livewire booted 18 goals in six matches and featured in the umpires’ votes in four of his five home and away appearances.
Best and fairest: Nick Riddle
Leading goal kicker: Jason Rogers (26)
Team of the Year representatives: Nick Riddle
6th (10 wins, 8 losses)
A second-consecutive sixth-place finish, however Frank Raso’s first season at the helm garnered two more wins than 2017. The new-look Tigers showed plenty of improvement throughout 2018 but were left with a feeling of ‘what could have been?’ after missing out on the finals by percentage. Heidelberg beat both premier West Preston-Lakeside and reigning premier Bundoora twice during the season and matched up well against Greensborough. The Tigers beat the Boro in Round 3 and then lost by three points at War Memorial Park in Round 15, following a goal to Andrew Stellas in the final minute. On reflection, that one kick determined which side finished in fifth place. It wasn’t the club’s only costly lost throughout the year – with Heidelberg going down to both wooden-spooner Whittlesea and ninth-placed Hurstbridge early in the season. Despite missing the finals, the year did end on a positive note, with the under-19s claiming the Division 2 premiership and skipper Michael Brunelli winning the Frank Rosbrook Medal in a tie with Macleod’s Lucas Hobbs. Brunelli’s triumph followed a second-place finish in the 2017 count. He was upstaged in the club best and fairest by teenage star Lachlan Wilson, who added the Blair Harvey Medal to his list of accolades after winning the best on grand medal in the 2016 grand final as a 17-year-old. Ryan Stone produced another impressive season, while Tom Sullivan finished in the top-five of the club’s best and fairest for the third year in succession. Chaz Sargeant returned to his best form and was one of two Tigers selected in the Team of the Year, along with Brunelli. Sargeant kicked 36 goals, which included a six-goal haul against Northcote Park in Round 16 and five goals in a best on ground display in the Round 2 win at West Preston-Lakeside. Sam Grimley enjoyed a solid year up forward and finished fifth on the goal kicking table with 49 majors, while youngsters Matthew Cecchin, Nathan Honey and Fletcher Carroll showed promising signs for the future.
Best and fairest: Lachlan Wilson
Leading goal kicker: Sam Grimley (49 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Michael Brunelli and Chaz Sargeant
7th (7 wins, 11 losses)
Not the successful season the club would have hoped for after landing former AFL trio Ben Kennedy, Matthew White and Tyrone Leonardis in the off-season. Montmorency managed only one win more than in 2017, culminating in another seventh-place finish and a fourth-consecutive campaign without a finals appearance. The Magpies started the season with a disappointing loss at Greensborough but looked to have announced themselves as a finals fancy with commanding home wins against North Heidelberg and Bundoora over the next two weeks. They sat as high as third spot at Round 8 with a 5-3 record, but then managed just two wins in their final 10 matches, which included a one-point triumph at Hurstbridge in the penultimate round. There was some misfortune which attributed to the disappointing season. Captain Jesse Donaldson and star midfielder Ben Fennell managed just five and three games respectively, while recruit Danko Bzenic played only six games after suffering a season-ending injury one week after starring in the NFNL’s rep win over the MPNFL. Ben Kennedy certainly lived up to the hype and was a standout in the midfield. The former Collingwood and Melbourne ball-winner finished runner-up in the Coaches MVP award and won the Magpies’ best and fairest. Patrick Fitzgerald finished second on the goal kicking table with 59 majors, just four behind winner Shane Harvey. Meanwhile, Ben Walton managed 16 games – his most since 2013 – and thrived both in attack and defence. Sam Binion was one of the major positives throughout the campaign. The 19-year-old featured among the Magpies’ best players in eight of his 11 matches, before being signed by VFL outfit Coburg, where he managed four games. Montmorency did enjoy success in September courtesy of its premiership-winning under-19s team. The club also landed a major coup in October, when it announced the signing of Garry Ramsay as coach for the 2019 season.
Best and fairest: Ben Kennedy
Leading goal kicker: Patrick Fitzgerald (59 goals)
Team of the Year representative: Patrick Fitzgerald and Ben Kennedy
8th (7 wins, 11 losses)
The 2018 season was a tale of two halves for Northcote Park, who missed the finals for the first time 2014. Four-consecutive wins between Round 6 to 9 had the Cougars in second place on the ladder at the halfway point of the season. The Round 9 triumph over Heidelberg was particularly noteworthy, with the Cougars 102 points ahead at three-quarter time. However, the final term of that game, when the Cougars conceded six unanswered goals, proved a sign of things to come. A close loss to North Heidelberg followed the next week, before a 103-point thrashing at the hands of Bundoora. From there Northcote Park never recovered, winning just one more game, against bottom-placed Whittlesea. They went on to lose their final six matches by an average margin of 52 points. The Cougars saw little of their VFL stars throughout the year, with Jackson Starcevich playing only two games and Ethan Penrith one. Work commitments limited Ash Close to nine games, although the star forward certainly delivered when available – booting 39 goals, including a bag of 10 against Hurstbridge in Round 7. To highlight Close’s importance, Northcote Park had a 7-2 record in matches he played and was winless in the nine matches he missed. Paul Dirago assumed the captaincy from Bronik Davies and led by example. The key defender became the second Cougar in as many years to win the Coaches MVP, after Jordan Perry won the award in 2017. Dirago polled 55 votes in a dominant first half of the year, before hanging on to win by four votes from Ben Kennedy. Jordan Perry overcame a quiet opening month to again be one of the competition’s most damaging midfielders. Perry finished fifth in the Coaches MVP voting despite missing four games and was named in the Team of the Year with Dirago. Nick Carter and Bryn Barnes-Webb were handy contributors throughout the year, while Ricky Fandrich had a career-best season with 34 goals.
Best and fairest: Paul Dirago
Leading goal kicker: Ash Close (39 goals)
Team of the Year representative: Paul Dirago and Jordan Perry
9th (3 wins, 15 losses)
Hurstbridge managed to avoid relegation in what proved a very difficult 2018 campaign, where the club was unable to build on its promising 2017 season. The Bridges managed just three wins for the year – the most important of which came against Whittlesea in a final-round battle that determined who was relegated. There was plenty of excitement surrounding Hurstbridge in the lead-up to the season following the acquisition of Travis and Cameron Cloke, Daniel Keenan and Ryan Jackson. However, the season began poorly with a heavy loss to West Preston-Lakeside at Ben Frilay Oval. The Bridges were the only winless side after three rounds but looked to have found their rhythm with consecutive wins on the road against Whittlesea and Heidelberg over the next fortnight. However, the Round 5 win at Warringal Park proved to be the club’s final triumph until saluting against the Eagles in Round 18. Coach Trevor Little departed the club during its 12-game losing streak, with former premiership player and best and fairest Jarrod Tilley set to take on the role full-time in 2019. Despite the 3-15 record, Hurstbridge used the fewest players of any Division 1 club, with only 32 players featuring in the senior side. Minor premier Macleod (36) was the only other club to use fewer than 40 players. Lachlan East and Troy Barbero tied for the best and fairest, while Daniel Keenan offered great support in his return to his former club. Mitch Burton again proved handy in attack and booted a team-high 28 goals, while Travis Cloke added 21 in his nine appearances.
Best and fairest: Troy Barbero and Lachlan East
Leading goal kicker: Mitchell Burton (28 goals)
10th (2 wins, 16 losses)
Whittlesea’s three-year stint in the top flight came to an end following a 2018 campaign that yielded just two wins. After producing several narrow escapes in recent years, the Eagles were unable to avoid relegation this time around – with their fate sealed by a 26-point defeat to Hurstbridge in Round 18. The season began with a two-point win at home to Heidelberg, but it soon became evident that the Eagles had their work cut out to avoid the drop. They were trounced by Macleod in Round 2, before managing just one goal in a 107-point defeat to Greensborough in Round 5. The Eagles’ losing run extended to 11 matches, before scoring a desperately needed win over Montmorency in Round 13. It was the club’s second-consecutive win at Montmorency Park after their first-ever win at the ground in 2017 and provided hope they could extend their stay in Division 1 to a fourth year. However, an elusive third win didn’t prove forthcoming, although not through a lack of effort. Whittlesea fell to Macleod at De Winton Park by just five points in Round 16, before pushing West Preston-Lakeside for three quarters the following week. They couldn’t match those efforts in the final round loss to Hurstbridge. The Eagles booted only 159 goals for the year, at an average of just nine a match, while leaking an average of 106 points per game. Xavier Dimasi was the club’s standout player throughout the year. The former Box Hill Hawk won the best and fairest and was the club’s sole member in the 40-man Team of the Year squad. Heidelberg legend Blair Harvey will take over the coaching reins for the Eagles’ return to Division 2 in 2019.
Best and fairest: Xavier Dimasi
Leading goal kicker: Chris Horman (18 goals)
MEADOWS GREYHOUNDS DIVISION 1 – 2018 REVIEW
Qualifying Final: West Preston-Lakeside 5.14 (44) def by North Heidelberg 12.4 (76)
Elimination Final: Bundoora 12.9 (81) def Greensborough 4.9 (33)
First Semi Final: West Preston-Lakeside 18.8 (116) def Bundoora 9.10 (64)
Second Semi Final: Macleod 14.11 (95) def North Heidelberg 12.10 (82)
Preliminary Final: North Heidelberg 7.10 (52) def by West Preston-Lakeside 18.14 (122)
Grand Final: Macleod 9.15 (69) def by West Preston-Lakeside 11.12 (78)
Best and Fairest
=1st – Michael Brunelli (Heidelberg) – 21 votes
=1st – Lucas Hobbs (Macleod) – 21 votes
2nd – Ned McKeown (Macleod) – 19 votes
= 3rd – Peter Hood (Bundoora) – 15 votes
= 3rd – Mark Kovacevic (West Preston-Lakeside) – 15 votes
= 3rd – Jesse Tardio (North Heidelberg) – 15 votes
Leading Goal Kicker (home and away only)
1st – Shane Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 63 goals
2nd – Patrick Fitzgerald (Montmorency) – 59 goals
=3rd – Brent Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 52 goals
=3rd – Ahmed Saad (West Preston-Lakeside) – 52 goals
4h – Sam Grimley (Heidelberg) – 49 goals
Coaches Most Valuable Player
1st – Paul Dirago (Northcote Park) – 76 votes
2nd – Ben Kennedy (Montmorency) – 72 votes
3rd – Brent Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 65 votes
4th – Sam Glover (West Preston-Lakeside) – 59 votes
5th – Jordan Perry (Northcote Park) – 55 votes
Team of the Year