NEAFL Northern Conference Round 7 Preview
by Peter Blucher
Kent Abey, Josh Vearing, Albert Proud, Reece Toye and Trent Manzone might have their nose a little out of joint this week. After all, they were members of the 2011 Queensland side and yet were overlooked for the equivalent 2012 squad.
Twelve ‘survivors’ from the 23-man team that took Queensland to the brink of an history victory over Western Australia at Mandurah south of Perth last year have been included in the 34-man NEAFL Northern Conference squad ahead of the 26 May clash with the Eastern Conference at Southport.
They are captain Danny Wise, Gavin Grose, Adam Spackman, Nathan Gilliland, Ryan Davey, Chris Smith, Scott Clouston, Matty Payne, Darren Ewing, Cameron Ilett, Kallen Geary and Paul Shelton.
Six members of the side were unavailable - Niall McKeever and Dayne Zorko (Brisbane Lions), Joel Tippett (West Adelaide), Shaun Tapp (injured), Caleb Brown (Mayne) and Iggy Vallejo (playing in SA Country).
And Abey, Vearing, Proud, Toye and Manzone were the five omissions from the side which put on such a wonderful performance against WA, going down by a kick after a barnstorming eight-goal final quarter
But Shane Johnson, Chairman of Selectors, was quick this morning to re-assure all players overlooked for the preliminary Northern Conference squad that the door is not closed.
“We’ll continue to monitor NEAFL form and if someone brains them there’s always the facility to add them to the group,” he said, confirming that Broadbeach’s Ezra Poyas and Southport’s Shane Harvey were not available for selection for personal reasons.
“What we’ve tried to do is only pick players who have a genuine chance of actually playing.”
The State squad chosen from Queensland and Northern Territory trained impressively at Beenleigh on Wednesday night under coach Jason Cotter, and will do likewise for each of the next two Wednesday nights.
They’ll train at Southport on the Tuesday and Thursday in the week of the game before going into camp on the Gold Coast on the Friday.
The 34-man Northern Conference squad is Aspley: Matt Payne, Mitch McKee. Broadbeach: Kallen Geary, Brad Wilson. Brisbane Lions: Sam Michael, Steve Wrigley. Labrador: Ryan Davey, Todd Grayson, Tim Notting. Morningside: Damien Bonney, Paul Shelton, Adam Spackman. Mt.Gravatt: Nathan Gilliland, Gavin Grose, Luke Scott, Chris Smith. NT Thunder: Jake Dignan, Darren Ewing, Cameron Ilett, Kenrick Tyrrell, Jason Roe. Redland: Phil Carse, James Charlesworth, Scott Clouston, Daniel Dzufer, Brad Rees. Southport: Josh Baxter, Jason Burge, Ben Headland, Cleve Hughes, Haydn Kiel, Wayde Mills, Fraser Thurlow, Danny Wise.
But with three rounds of NEAFL fixtures still to be played before the game against the Eastern Conference selectors will keenly cast their collective eye over fringe candidates at every opportunity.
This will give the likes of Abey, Vearing, Proud, Toye and Manzone and others a chance to show their worth, especially after atrocious weather conditions last weekend denied fringe candidates a chance to really showcase their skills.
Aspley’s Ben Bucovaz, good enough to play AFL football with Fremantle last year but cut down by injury early this season, is one who might catch the eye if he hits top form quickly. Or teammate Micah Buchanan.
Likewise Broadbeach‘s ex-West Australian recruit Jordan Eastwell, Labrador ruckman Owen Uaongo, from the Mornington Peninsula, and young NT Thunder pair Jed Anderson and Ben Rioli.
Or young Labrador defender Tom Fields, who has done his father/son draft selection hopes at Essendon no harm whatsoever with a brilliant start to the season.
The Gold Coast Suns Reserves, the only side without a representative in the squad following a ruling that only Queensland-bred AFL rookies are eligible, may get one if former international high-jumper Josh Hall continues his upward form spiral.
Unfortunately for Labrador players, they’ll be denied an opportunity to impress this weekend because they have a Round 7 NEAFL bye.
Mt.Gravatt, too, have a NEAFL bye but will play in the Foxtel Cup.
For ex-Gold Coast Suns rookie Jake Crawford, who was chosen to play for Queensland against WA last year until injured during the final training run in Perth the night before the game, the inter-conference game may have come a few weeks early unless he can very quickly hit top form.
Crawford will play his first NEAFL game with Southport against Broadbeach at Fankhauser Reserve on Sunday in what will be a sizeable boost to the already in-form Sharks line-up.
Crawford was plagued by a serious and recurring hamstring injury over the pre-season but has regained match fitness and touch via five games in the Southport reserves.
The hard-at-it utility player originally from the Sunshine Coast will create a selection headache for coach Norm Dare after Dare declared he didn’t have a bad player in the Sharks’ thumping 89-point win over Aspley last week.
But Southport football manager Cotter has confirmed that Crawford will definitely play against the Cats.
Coming off a similarly impressive 78-point win over Mt.Gravatt last weekend, Broadbeach will welcome the return of key position utility Kieran Emery, who was a late withdrawal for personal reasons last week when the game was postponed 24 hours due to rain.
Also hoping to take back his spot after he was left out due to the conditions will be back-up ruckman and ex-Southport player Josh Clarke.
Broadbeach officials are suggesting they’ll field their best side of the year against Southport, and, obviously thinking they aren’t without a chance of pulling off an upset, were wondering if they’ve ever won at the Sharks’ homeground.
It was a reasonable question. Their last six visits to Fankhauser Reserve have brought losses by 41, 106, 98, 22, 95 and 16 points.
But in Round 7 2005 they did win there. Scores were level at three-quarter time before the Cats piled on 7-2 to 1-1 in the final term to win by 37 points. Korey Fulton kicked six goals.
From 2004 onwards Broadbeach have a 5-15 win/loss record against Southport. It’s 4-6 at H&A Oval, 1-8 at Fankhauser and 0-1 elsewhere during the finals.
In other games Saturday, the in-form NT Thunder will travel to Metricon Stadium to take on the Gold Coast Suns Reserves with Darren Ewing on the verge of yet another chapter in club history.
The cannonball full forward, averaging 4.76 goals per game with the Thunder during a spectacular AFLQ/NEAFL career, needs only one against the Suns to reach 300.
Odds are he’ll get it because in 62 games for the Thunder he has been held goalless only twice – against Southport at TIO Stadium in Darwin in Round 8 2010 and against Mt.Gravatt at TIO Stadium in Round 20 2011.
The Thunder will be without Nathan Brown (injured), Jack McEwin (rested) and Gerrard Cunningham (work commitments), but will debut young Buffalos player Jarrod Stokes.
Others in line for a return, subject to final selection, are Will Farrer, Kieren Smith, Damien Williams Jnr and Joey Collinson, with Nathan Mutch a chance to join Stokes in playing his first game.
The Suns, beaten for the first time this season last weekend by Labrador, will be at least one player down following Josh Toy’s elevation to the seniors to replace the injured Brandon Matera. But this may be off-set by the inclusion of others rested from the Reserves last weekend.
Redland, fresh from a bye for their trip to Canberra to meet Eastern Conference strugglers Tuggeranong on Saturday, will be bolstered by the inclusion of full forward Josh Pullman, plus Jay Lewis, Jordan Bain, Blake Grewer and Nick Clarke.
But State squad member Daniel Dzufer will not play. He chose to go on holidays last weekend in preference to training through the week off and, under the strict “no train, no play” policy of coach Greg Seton-Lonsdale, he’ll spend this weekend in the Reserves.
Also omitted from the seniors were PNG pair David Meli and Lawrie Logo, plus Rowan Page and Jack McDonald.
Tuggeranong, with ex-Richmond player and Eastern Conference representative squad member Marc Dragicevic among their playing ranks, sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference ladder with only a draw to show for five games this season.
Another big name playing Reserves football this weekend after a similarly hard line from Mt.Gravatt coach Andrew Mellor will be will be ex-Lions midfielder Proud.
He went on holidays last week and missed Mt.Gravatt’s loss to Broadbeach so he’ll also will miss the trip to Sydney to play Sydney-based Eastern Conference side Hills Eagles at the SCG in the Foxtel Cup.
The Vultures have made six changes that will see them field a significantly stronger line-up on paper, with Sean Yoshiura, Aaron Lawn, Dale Reyney and Mark Pennington returning from injury, Rohan Cash back from suspension, and Chris Murphy returning after work commitments forced his late withdrawal last week when the game against Broadbeach was moved from Saturday to Sunday.
James Pennyciuck will miss two weeks with suspension, while Jayden Crawley, so impressive on debut as a late call-up last week, has been left out with Matt Skubis, Brandon Stewart, Joe Murphy and Troy Rogers.
The Vultures will find themselves up against a former teammate in the Eagles side - PNG-born Amua Pirika. He played 28 games for Mt.Gravatt in 2010-11, including the club’s last two finals in 2010.
Ex-NT excitement pair Ross Tungatalum and Bradley Palipuaminni, members of the Thunder’s Northern Conference and cross-conference premiership sides last year, also play for the Eagles, who are second on the Eastern Conference ladder.
Tungatalum looms as a real dangerman, having won Northern Conference Team of the Year selection and the Rising Star Award year after kicking 55 goals in 17 games to rank within the premiers’ ranks behind Ewing.
With every passing week his Rising Star win was more meritorious because of the hot field he beat.
Tungatalum polled 34 votes to knock off Broadbeach’s Kallen Geary (23), who is in the State squad, and Thunder teammate Jed Anderson (22), who is on the verge. In the next bracket were Morningside’s Tom Bell (18), who was drafted as a rookie by Carlton, and Morningside’s Peter Yagmoor (17), who already has played AFL football for Collingwood this year, and Redland’s Alex Sexton (16), who was picked up by the Suns and has twice been a senior emergency.
Tungatalum is one of five Eagles players in the Eastern Conference representative side along with ex-Carlton player Ryan Houlihan, ex-SANFL key forward Jamie Vlatko, ex-Collingwood rookie draft pick and NSW scholarship holder Scott Reed, and Matt Edwins.
Morningside, also off to Canberra this weekend to play Belconnen tomorrow, will debut Henry Joyce after he turned 19 on Wednesday. The former Townsville junior will play alongside 22-year-old brother Andrew.
But as one pair of NQ brothers is united at senior level with the Panthers, the other will be split up. Josh Brown will miss the trip to the national capital after an injury sustained in the warm-up last week, leaving twin brother Sam to fly the family flag.
Key absences for the Panthers will be Jarrod Price (work commitments) and Ryan Holman (injured), while Chris Hunt and Daniel Duffield have been recalled to face a Belconnen side that sits seventh on the Eastern Conference ladder with one win and a draw from five games.
Five Belconnen players are in the Eastern Conference representative squad - Shane Harris, Matt Lokan, Matthew Porter, Matthew Sharp, Simon Curtis and Ryan Turnbull.
The Lions, who will host Aspley at Yeronga on Saturday, will be two players down at Reserves level following the suspension of Andrew Raines and the decision to rest Josh Drummond, with Billy Longer and Ryan Harwood promoted to the seniors and Sam Sheldon relegated to the NEAFL side.
James Polkinghorne’s return from injury will alleviate the need for the club to find further reinforcements - presuming he’s not a late withdrawal for the third week in a row - but at least one of the emergency trio of Sheldon, Josh Green and Niall McKeever will travel with the senior side to Melbourne.