TO say Bridgewater captain Brad Rohde is in unfamiliar territory is a major understatement.
Nine flags over the past nine years – seven with the Mean Machine, one with Strathfieldsaye and one with the South Bendigo reserves – shows football success and key forward Rohde have gone hand-in-hand for the best part of a decade.
Yet season 2018 has become one for Rohde and perennial Loddon Valley league power Bridgewater where the Mean Machine has a fight on its hands simply to make the finals.
Bridgewater – which has played in eight grand finals in a row – begins the final six rounds of the home and away season two games outside the top five.
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“It’s obviously a totally different situation that we find ourselves in this year. We’ve played some patches of good footy, but haven’t been consistent enough,” Rohde said on Friday.
“We’ve got a bit of a fight on our hands to make the top five, but at the same time it’s a challenge the group is really keen to sink its teeth into.
“One of the positives out of the year though has been opportunities for some of our younger guys to have a go and with our under-18s sitting in the top three, we’ve got some good kids coming through.”
Teenager Joseph Mayes playing ruck/forward before suffering an ankle injury was one of the Mean Machine’s shining lights early in the season, while another of the club’s youngsters in Peter Rothacker on a wing has made the most of increased opportunity and Liam Jacques has been a consistent midfield driving force.
“It has been really good to see some of those younger players stepping up,” said Rohde, whose season was interrupted earlier in the year with a knee bursae that also affected his calf.
The Mean Machine takes on the in-form Calivil United on Saturday in a clash of last season’s grand finalists.
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“This weekend is obviously a must-win game to stay in touch with the top five. In saying that though, we think our best footy is still good enough to match it with the top sides,” Rohde said.
• Saturday’s games – Marong v Newbridge, Inglewood v Maiden Gully YCW, Bridgewater v Calivil United, Mitiamo v Pyramid Hill. BL-Serpentine bye.