THE wait for Bendigo Bank Bendigo Football Netball League players, officials, volunteers and fans is almost over as Strathfieldsaye and Sandhurst gear up for a Good Friday showdown.
After no play in 2020 because of COVID, Storm takes on the Dragons to mark the return of Bendigo FNL action at Triple M Park in Tannery Lane.
It’s a stand-alone match moved from round two.
Storm will unfurl the 2019 seniors premiership flag, the fourth the club has won.
Beaten by Golden Square in the 2013 grand final, Storm struck back to win the 2014 and ’15 play-offs against Sandhurst.
In the past three seasons, Strathfieldsaye has won two premierships and been runner-up.
On Good Friday, Storm’s run to stay at the top kicks off against a club which won the Bendigo Advertiser premiership cup in 2016.
There have been plenty of changes for both clubs since they last met on June 29, 2019.
Storm took out the round 11 contest at Triple M Park by 22 points.
There have been changes at the top at Storm as Shannon Geary steps up to be co-coach of the seniors.
Geary will join forces with triple premiership coach Daryl Wilson in his return to the club.
Storm has lost several stars from the 2019 grand final winning line-up, but has regained the likes of Kallen Geary, Jake Hall and Tom Bartholomew.
Biggest challenge for Sandhurst in Friday’s match will be curbing the influence of gun full-forward Lachlan Sharp.
A dual Ron Best medallist for leading goalkicker and 2017 Michelsen medallist for league best and fairest, Sharp’s quick leading, strong hands and work at ground level have resulted in many goals.
Sharp booted 131 goals in his latest season and has a career tally of 569.
Players to watch in a new-look and younger Storm team include Baxter Slater from Gisborne, and Cooper Jones.
A massive plus for Sandhurst is the return of star on-baller Lee Coghlan.
After missing the 2019 season because of a knee reconstruction, Coghlan’s skill and will to win every contest inspires team-mates.
He also takes on a joint captaincy role with the classy Nick Stagg, both were team-mates in the 2016 premiership team led by Blair Holmes, who will play on for the Dragons.
While the Dragons look at the best way to stop Sharp and the rest of the Storm attack, Sandhurst coach Ashley Connick has worked on more scoring options.
In 2019, Matt Thornton was the Dragons leading goalkicker on 42 as Jake McLean, 23, and Nick Stagg, 18, were next best.
A club with a lengthy and proud history, Sandhurst will be determined to add to its streak of finals appearance.
Last time the Dragons did not feature in the senior finals was in 2009.
Newcomers to the club such as Beau Cross, Isaiah Bull and Mitch Rovers will be doing all they can to ensure Sandhurst is a challenger for the premiership cup once again and starts a new season in style.
Matches in round one to be played on April 10 include Gisborne at home against Strathfieldsaye at Gardiner Reserve
Sandhurst takes on Maryborough at Queen Elizabeth Oval, and Eaglehawk faces Kangaroo Flat at Canterbury Park.
Kyneton and Golden Square clash in the Tigers’ lair at Kyneton Showgrounds, and Castlemaine plays South Bendigo at Camp Reserve.
Written by Nathan Dole