BY NATHAN DOLE
LURING several premiership stars has Bridgewater in a strong position to challenge for next year’s senior footy premiership in the Bendigo Bank Loddon Valley FNL.
The Mean Machine has bolstered its line-up by signing five players from Strathfieldsaye Storm, and a Sandhurst legend.
In a huge recruiting coup, Bridgewater was able to gain Lachlan Sharp, a multiple premiership winner with Storm and a Michelsen medallist as an assistant coach.
A brilliant forward, Sharp is a multiple winner of the Ron Best Medal as league goalkicker in the Bendigo FNL.
Sharp will team up with Rick Ladson as the Mean Machine aims to deny Marong’s run at a premiership hat-trick.
Bridgewater also welcomes Lee Coghlan back to where his footy career began.
A product of Bridgewater’s juniors, Coghlan played more than 200 senior games for Sandhurst, won a Michelsen Medal as the Bendigo FNL’s best in 2009, and premiership with the Dragons in 2016.
Also bound for Bridgewater will be Boden Alexander who returns to the club and will be joined by Strathfieldsaye team-mates Harry Conway, Joseph Mayes and Jack Neylon.
The Linton Jacobs-coached Marong is still the team to beat.
In a remarkable streak, Marong was beaten just once on the way to capturing the senior premiership in ’22 and ’23.
The Panthers go into a new season without gun forward Brandyn Grenfell who has signed with Nyah Nyah West United.
Grenfell kicked 303 goals in 41 games for Marong.
A powerful attack for the Panthers still has Kain Robins, Matt Riordan and Ryley Taylor.
Coach of the premiership-winning reserves, Carl Thiesz will take on a new role as senior coach of Harcourt.
Pyramid Hill’s hunger to break a lengthy premiership drought will be stronger after a 16-point loss to Marong in last September’s grand final at Inglewood.
A strong line-up for the Bulldogs includes midfielder Dylan Collis who earned the Harding Medal as league fairest and best.
Add the likes of Zac Alford, Brodie Carroll, Steven Gunther, Gavin James, Bryden Morrison and Will Perryman and the Bulldogs will be right in the race.
A preliminary final berth capped Bears Lagoon Serpentine’s rise after bowing out in the elimination final a year earlier.
The Bears have a new coach and key defender in Jake Wilkinson from Sandhurst.
Coach in ’22 and ’23 and the fairest and best award winner, Justin Laird will play on.
Key signings for BLS include the experienced Tyler Miles from Maiden Gully YCW, and Ross Turner from Mitiamo.
The Bears also welcome back Darcy Hawker and Nathan Twigg from Boort.
Another newcomer at BLS will be Doolan Nihill from White Hills.
After reaching senior finals for the first time in 20 years, Inglewood will be determined to keep rising.
The Blues have appointed Fergus Payne, assistant coach to Darrell Billett last season, as new senior coach.
A triple premiership player with Strathfieldsaye, Payne played a key role in Inglewood’s run this season.
Newcomers for the Blues include Mitch Conlan, a centre half-forward from Jerilderie, and Eaglehawk ruckman Sam Gorrie.
Inglewood has also signed the versatile Jordan Leach from Jeparit Rainbow; Harry Bogaski from Newstead; South Bendigo’s Josh Lea and Josh Stokes, and Jack Rutter.
The Blues also welcome back Aaron Lister after he did not play in ’23, and Jack Harvey who was with Inglewood two seasons ago.
Key players include Bregon Cotchett, winner of the Graham ‘Squirty’ Roberts Medal as fairest and best; Tom Kennedy, Charlie McGaw, Keelan Payne, Daniel and Sam Polack.
There’s a lot more stability at Mitiamo as it rolls into the ’24 campaign.
Jon Varcoe will mark a second year in charge as coach of the Superoos who achieved a win-loss tally of 4-12 last season.
After a stint at Golden Square, Jack Vinnicombe will return to John Forbes Oval in Mitiamo.
The Superoos also welcome Bryce Laird from Bathurst, Alex Lloyd from Kerang, and Liam Shiell from South Bendigo.
Gun midfielder Ross Turner has crossed to Bears Lagoon Serpentine, and Liam Jones is now in the Army.
Newbridge has gained some quality recruits as it strives to improve on a 4-12 record.
Jointly coached by Sam Gale, playing, and Daniel Smith, non-playing, Newbridge has signed Ed and Jono Aujard from Murrabit, Matt McArthur from Powelltown, and also picked up Jackson Hufer from Mount Pleasant.
The Maroons also regain ruckman Ricky Cathie from Wandella.
Another club busy on the recruiting front was Calivil United.
Premiership-winning coach Anthony Dennis will lead the Demons and be supported by Sam Maher as assistant coach.
The Maher brothers, Sam and Jack will play key roles for the red and blue.
Midfielder Sam Green returns from Boort, while the Demons have picked up Lewis Fisher and Kane Shelton from Golden Square.
A team which includes Jake Lawry, Justin Hynes and Evan Ritchie is strengthened by the likes of Jacob Mulquiny and Brodie Wagner from Boort, and Darcy Thompson.
Maiden Gully YCW Eagles recruited one of the coaching coups of the year by luring Shawn Filo and Angus Monfries from Lake Boga.
The past two years, Filo and Monfries have been in non-playing and playing roles with the Magpies.
They had been with another mischief of Magpies when at Castlemaine in 2019.
Filo previously coached in the Loddon Valley when in charge of Pyramid Hill in 2012.
Monfries brings 211 games of AFL experience from stints with Essendon and Port Adelaide and could play across half-back or in attack for the Eagles.