By Colin MacGillivray
AS the Riddell District Football Netball League takes stock amid another COVID-19 lockdown, there is one fact all teams can agree on – Wallan has emerged as a clear premiership favourite.
The Magpies sit atop the ladder with an 8-1 record and an imposing percentage of nearly 400.
Wallan boasts both the highest-scoring attack and stingiest defence in the competition, winning its matches by an astounding average of 103 points.
The team’s sole loss came to second-placed Macedon by four points amid inclement weather, but the Magpies have appeared otherwise untroubled.
Coach Daniel Nolan said the most pleasing aspect of Wallan’s strong start to the season had been the way its reserves and under 19s had stepped up to cover several key injuries.
“We have some really big outs still, which in some ways is exciting. Jarryd Bonello has only played one game and he was third in our best and fairest last season,” Nolan said.
“Sean Morris who was second in our best and fairest hasn’t played since Macedon in round four.
“We’ve got Korey Jonkers and [Daniel] Mackertich and [Lachlan] Innes to come back into our squad. It’s going to put pressure on selection, but it’s a healthy headache to have.
“I think we’ve played about 34 players this year already. To play that many and still be sitting on top shows that our best asset is the depth we have in our reserves and under 19s.
“If some other clubs had to push that depth as well, I’m not sure they would be as competitive as what we are at the moment.”
Nolan said a focus on spreading the load in attack had also helped the Magpies’ league-best forward line.
Matt Perri leads the league in goals kicked again after notching a century in 2019, but has plenty of support with Corey Grindlay, Jake Layley and Sean Morris all joining Perri among the league’s top 10 goal kickers.
“Corey Grindlay is only 21 or 22 and he has the potential to be a Matt Perri in a couple of years’ time and kick big bags. He kicked nine goals in our last game,” Nolan said.
“You can add Nathan Fowler to the mix as well. He was working in Queensland for the first part of the year. He’s a Wallan boy and a famous surname at the club, and for him to come back and slot into centre half-forward really straightens us up.
“With those three up forward, opposition clubs can’t just focus on Perri.”
Nolan also lauded Wallan’s backline, which he said often did not get its due credit.
“It’s a strong back eight players who go through there,” he said.
“Defensively they’re accountable, and then they can run and create off the half-back line as well.
“We’ve got the best captain in the competition at centre half-back as well in Michael Mannix. He’s like having another coach out on the field.
“He pushes forward too and he’s kicked a few goals this year, but he’s a defensive backman who controls the space almost like a Luke Hodge and then has a tank to get up and down the field and hit the scoreboard as well.”
With players set for an uncertain amount of time on the sidelines, Nolan said he was confident his team would retain its edge.
“I’ve set the players running programs to do and some tips on skills training and drills,” he said.
“It’s about accountability but also about trust, and we trust the playing group that they’ll do everything right to be fit and ready to go whenever that is.
“If we miss a few rounds and finals are changed, we’re pretty confident we can adapt and still play a major role.
“The most important thing is that everyone is safe. Footy is great, but people are losing their jobs and are out of work and can’t see their family and friends.
“We’re here to support the players and everyone in the club mentally as well, not just on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. We’ve got to get everyone through this current situation the best we can.”