2024 SEASON PREVIEW: BFNL Senior Football


It’s a Good Friday start for the Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League when Castlemaine and Maryborough meet on March 29.

Can Golden Square claim back-to-back Bendigo Advertiser premiership cups, will a fired-up Sandhurst be number one, and just who will fall and rise?

It’s been a busy time of recruiting and training for all clubs as they chase on-field glory.

This season there are nine clubs in the BFNL following Kyneton’s transfer to the Riddell District FNL.

The Bendigo FNL has slated in a stand-alone match between Castlemaine and Maryborough at Castlemaine’s Camp Reserve on Good Friday to start the ’24 season.

The all-Magpies match on March 29 will draw plenty of fans to the nest.

Here’s a rundown on each of the Bendigo FNL clubs:


A new-look coaching panel, some gun recruits and returning stars has meant Castlemaine is likely to be a much tougher opponent this season.

The Magpies have appointed former AFL player Michael Hartley as playing coach.

Hartley’s experience from stints at Collingwood, Essendon and Hawthorn is a huge plus for a Castlemaine team desperate to improve on just two wins last season.

A recruiting coup for Castlemaine was the signing of Golden Square premiership player Zavier Murley.

The Magpies have also gained Harrison Sheahan from Kyneton; and Will Moran returns to the club after a one-season stint with Sandhurst.

Other key ins are Jack Chester from Finley; Kalan Huntly and Darby Semmens from Harcourt; and Declan Slingo from Pyramid Hill.

On the coaching front, Harmit Singh is back at the Camp as senior development coach.

Frank Byrne will coach the reserves, and talented senior player Bailey Henderson will coach the under-18s.

The Magpies start the season against Maryborough, the only team it beat in ’23.

Some big games across the opening month or so include South Bendigo at Kennington’s Harry Trott Oval on April 20; and home game against Golden Square on April 27.

The Magpies will be in the feature game of Pat Cronin Foundation Round on May 4 at Eaglehawk, and also in the Indigenous Round feature game on June 1 at Kangaroo Flat’s Dower Park.


The Travis Matheson-coached Hawks played some great football on their way to last season’s first semi-final.

The return of athletic ruckman Jonty Neaves who earned the Nalder Medal as best afield in the 2018 grand final win against Strathfieldsaye is a huge plus.

Eaglehawk has also signed Harcourt’s premiership-winning ruckman in Brayden Frost.

Runner-up for last season’s Berry Powell Medal as fairest and best in the Maryborough Castlemaine DFNL, Frost won the award the previous year.

On the recruiting front, newcomers to the Borough include Brady Rowles from Melton, and Bryce Frost from Harcourt.

The Hawks have also gained Pala Kuma from Strathfieldsaye.

An Eaglehawk team that includes the skill of Billy Evans, Kallen Geary, Clayton Holmes and Darcy Richards, and talented youngsters Jack O’Shannessy and Thomas Bennett will be a strong contender for a top-three finish.

In defence, Oscar Madden and Dylan Hanley are keys to the Borough’s chances.

The Hawks are on home turf at Canterbury Park to tackle Golden Square in round one on April 13.

Another big test will be at Strathfieldsaye’s Triple M Park on April 27 to face Storm.

Indigenous Round on June 1 includes the Hawks up against Sandhurst at Queen Elizabeth Oval.

On the coaching front, Nick Patching and Matt Pollock will coach the reserves this season.


After falling from premiers to the seventh rung, Gisborne has plenty of incentive going into the ’24 campaign.

Injuries rocked the Bulldogs for much of last season, especially when gun forward Pat McKenna broke his ankle.

The return of McKenna to the Dogs’ attack is a massive plus for a team in which Rob Waters will again be coach.

Waters took a break from coaching after the ’22 premiership triumph, but did return to the role late in the season.

Another on the comeback to footy is Jack Scanlon, a key forward in the run to the flag two years ago.

Gisborne’s on-ball brigade is bolstered by the signing of Jackson Cardillo from Rupertswood.

He will team up with ruckman Braidon Blake and the brilliant Brad Bernacki and Flynn Lakey.

In attack or defence, Gisborne captain Jack Reaper has proven he is one of the league’s best.

The Bulldogs have also gained Brodie Clarke, Jacob Floreani, Wilhem Mackay, Henry Mason and Charlie Ozanne from Macedon.

After a bye in the first round on April 13, Gisborne heads to the Queen Elizabeth Oval a week later to tackle Sandhurst.

Big matches early on include South Bendigo in Pat Cronin Foundation Round on May 4 at Kennington; and Golden Square at Gardiner Reserve on May 11.

The Bulldogs host Strathfieldsaye Storm in the Indigenous Round match on June 1.

Golden Square

After the departure of so many premiership winners it’s a new-look Golden Square in ’24.

Among the changes is Brad Eaton stepping up from assistant coach to be senior coach.

For Eaton and the Bulldogs it’s a matter of what we have, not what we don’t have.

Since the one-goal victory against Sandhurst in last September’s grand final the Bulldogs have had captain and six-time premiership player Jack Geary take on a senior coaching role at Cohuna Kangas.

Those not in the blue and gold include Joel Brett, Matt Compston, Ryan Hartley, Hamish Morcom, Zavier Murley and Jake Thrum.

There is still plenty of class in a line-up that includes Tom Toma and Jayden Burke as co-captains.

Those to have joined the Bulldogs include Luke Holt and Jordan Rosengren from Wedderburn; Mitch Billings from Huntly; Keana Padula from Boort.

The athletic Kai Daniels, older brother of NBA star Dyson joins Square from Pyramid Hill.

Also back at Country Vet Oval are Dylan Hird from Eaglehawk, and Kyle Stevens from Merbein.

After a round-one clash on Eaglehawk’s turf, Golden Square will unveil its latest premiership flag before it plays Strathfieldsaye Storm on April 20 at Wade Street.

Tough start against two of the club’s greatest rivals.

Another big game at the kennel will be on May 25 with the stand-alone game between Golden Square and Sandhurst for the Ron Best Shield.

Kangaroo Flat

The Roos will be keen to build on their win-loss tally of 5-13 from last season.

Michael Ellings takes charge of a club which has battled for consistency in matches and had plenty of turnover in recent years.

A premiership player with the Simon Jorgensen-coached Kangaroos in 1996, Barry Pitson will be assistant coach.

Opponents can expect to face a fitter and stronger opponent this years as Ellings imparts his knowledge from strength and conditioning with the Australian Defence Force.

Among the recruits to Dower Park are the coaches son, Luke Ellings from Gisborne.

The Roos have also gained Corey Ash from St Kilda City; Lachlan Dalziel and Austin Lothian from Mornington Peninsula; Jack Lefroy from Old Trinity; Fraser Russell from Learmonth; and Cayden Shannon from Carisbrook.

Although they were at premiership winning clubs last season, Orin McKay and Tucker Thach have made their way to the Roos from Harcourt and Marong respectively.

The Kangaroos bound into a new campaign by playing a twilight match against Sandhurst on April 13 at Dower Park.

Flat will strive to break a long-running hoodoo against Golden Square in the Pat Cronin Foundation Round on May 4 at Wade Street.

The Roos meet Castlemaine in the Indigenous Round feature match on June 1 at Kangaroo Flat.


Despite a winless run in 2023, Maryborough was incredibly busy on the recruiting front.

The Coby Perry and Matt Johnston-coached Magpies have gained some quality players and also had several return to Princes Park.

Among the key signings for Maryborough are Fraser Russell from Learmonth and Ash Humphrey.

A rookie with Carlton in 2015, Russell played VFL with Northern Blues and some games for Maryborough in the Covid-interrupted season of 2021.

Humphrey was with the Magpies from 2018 and ’22 and also brings VFL experience from his days with the Bendigo Bombers.

Other ins include Robert Castiglia from Westmeadows, Ronnie Feeney from Maryborough Giants, and Aiden Carter from Carisbrook.

The club has also welcomed back Kirk Looby who was with the Magpies in 2016.

After a year off from the game, Seb Collins who previously played for Sandhurst will make his comeback.

Kya Lanfranchi plays a crucial on-field role in defence and also off-field as coach of the club’s under-18s team which played finals in ’23.

It’s a stand-alone game between Castlemaine and Maryborough on Good Friday to open the season on March 29 at Camp Reserve.

First home game for Maryborough is on April 20 against Kangaroo Flat at Princes Park.

The Magpies host Sandhurst in the Pat Cronin round on May 4, and will meet Golden Square on June 1 to mark Indigenous Round.


After such a lucrative recruiting spree, Sandhurst is poised to jump from runner-up to premier.

The Dragons will again be coached by Ash Connick, non-playing, and Bryce Curnow, playing.

After stints in the AFL with Western Bulldogs and Hawthorn, Fergus Greene returns to the club where it all began.

Across half-forward or closer to goal, Greene will be part of a formidable attack that includes Cobi Maxted and Lachlan Wright.

Arguably the league’s most versatile big man, Curnow could also spend more time in attack than defence.

Add in the run and skill of Lachlan Tardrew in midfield, and key defender Matt Campbell and the Dragons have done incredibly well to off-set the departures of Andy Collins, Lee Coghlan, Hamish Hosking and Matt Thornton.

Tardrew’s experience in the VFL with Collingwood included a stint as captain.

The fight for a place in the best 22 will be tight as the Dragons have plenty of players vying to step up from a premiership-winning reserves team to play senior footy.

Big matches in the first half of the season include against South Bendigo for the Graeme Wright Memorial Cup at Queen Elizabeth Oval on May 11, and the Ron Best Memorial Shield clash on May 18 at Golden Square.

The Dragons will also be fired up to face Eaglehawk in the Indigenous Round match on June 1.

South Bendigo

Fifth and fourth the past two seasons, South Bendigo could be in the lower rungs of the top five once again.

This year it’s Steven Stroobants and Isaiah Miller who step up to be playing co-coaches of the Bloods.

The midfield was strengthened by the signing of Anthony Zimmerman from St Kilda City.

A team-mate from St Kilda City, Matthew McNaughton has also made his way to the Bloods home at Harry Trott Oval in Kennington.

Pace and goalkicking are two of McNaughton’s strengths he brings to an attack that includes Stroobants, Brock Harvey and Will Keck.

The Bloods have also signed Will Marks and Patrick Sheahan from Birchip-Watchem.

A key forward, Will’s father, Deon was a key defender in South Bendigo’s premiership wins of ’93 and ’94.

A highlight for the Bloods will be the reunion of the senior premiership teams of 1954, ’69, ’74 and ’94 on May 18 at Kennington’s Harry Trott Oval.

Also joining the Bloods this year are wingman Nathan Murley from Maiden Gully YCW, and Jack Francis, a premiership winner with North Bendigo.

South Bendigo’s campaign kicks off at Strathfieldsaye’s Triple M Park on April 13.

Other big games include Pat Cronin Round against Gisborne on May 4 at Kennington; the Graeme Wright Memorial Cup game against Sandhurst on May 11.

The Bloods play at Golden Square on June 8 to mark King’s Birthday weekend.


It’s been an incredible run by Strathfieldsaye to contest seven grand finals across nine seasons since 2013.

Storm’s run is four premierships and three runner-up.

It’s a new era for the club as Luke Freeman steps up to be senior coach after Darryl Wilson’s move to Nullawil in the North Central FNL.

There are changes to on-field personnel as captain, gun forward, multiple premiership winner, Michelsen medallist, and dual Ron Best medallist for goalkicking in Lachlan Sharp has joined Bridgewater as assistant coach.

Storm will also be without another Michelsen medallist in Jake Moorhead.

It is still a formidable looking squad to represent Strathfieldsaye.

Those playing on include Daniel Clohesy, Shannon Geary, Lachlan Gill, Mitch Hallinan, Caleb Sheahan, James Schishka, Baxter Slater and Riley Wilson.

There’s also rising stars such as Caleb Ernst, Tim Hosking, Carson James and Bode Stevens.

The club’s coaching appointments were Ben Lester and Luke Marchesi as joint coaches of the reserves, and Lachlan Ratcliffe as under-18s coach.

Storm starts its campaign on April 13 at Triple M Park.

A tough start includes the clash at Golden Square on April 20, and hosting Eaglehawk a week later.

Storm’s squad will trek down the Calder to meet Gisborne in the Indigenous Round match on June 1.

Another big game at Strathfieldsaye will be on June 8 when Storm and Sandhurst meet in the King’s Birthday round.

Nat Dole’s predictions for this BFNL season:

Top five: Sandhurst, Gisborne, Strathfieldsaye, Golden Square, Eaglehawk.

Premier: Sandhurst.

Goalkicking: Pat McKenna, Gisborne.

Michelsen Medal: Lachlan Tardrew, Sandhurst.

Biggest improver: Castlemaine.