By Luke West
THE only way is up for Leitchville-Gunbower under new coach Tim Bannan in the Heathcote District league this season.
The former power side of the competition that played in four grand finals in a row between 2015 and 2018 - winning two of them - is in rebuild mode.
The Bombers are coming off a winless 2021 season, with Bannan taking over as coach from Cameron Van Florenstein.
Given the developing nature of the young Bombers side, it's a coaching role that has strong appeal to Bannan.
Bannan's coaching background involves stints at junior level with the Gisborne Rookies and Riddell, with the opportunity now at hand to bring on the next generation of young Bombers' players.
As well as a new coach in Bannan, new players joining the Bombers this year are Leyton Shenfield (half-back/midfielder), Blake Azzopardi (centre half-forward/midfielder), Jobee Warde (ruckman), Sam Lewis (half-back/wing), Tom Guerra (defender) and Lachie Martini (forward).
"In terms of our recruiting we've looked for players who can read the game really well," Bannan said.
"Having Sam Lewis, Leyton Shenfield and young Tommy Guerra coming on board, it has been great because they are really good in terms of their footy smarts.
"And we honed in on getting a really good ruckman, which we've been able to do with Jobee Warde from Echuca.
"He's quite big and athletic and that's why we went after him. He has been training really well and Blake Azzopardi is a player who has silky smooth skills, a strong overhead mark and is good when the ball is on the ground as well."
In terms of our recruiting we've looked for players who can read the game really well- Tim Bannan
Among the departures from last season is club stalwart and premiership ruckman Lee Pollock, who has retired after celebrating 200 club games with the Bombers.
Will Brereton, Brett Johnson and Lincoln Sieben are also on the Bombers' departure list.
Experienced defender Hoby Bussey - who played in both the club's 2017 and 2018 flags - is playing on, but will have a delayed start to the season following a knee reconstruction last year.
"Hoby is back doing some long distance running and we think he'll be right to go for the last six or seven games around that late June/early July mark," Bannan said.
Bussey and assistant coach Ayden Walton are the only remaining players from the club's premiership years.
"With the guys we've recruited and our young players now being a year older, we think we should be winning some games of football this year," Bannan said.
"If we stick to our structures there's no reason why we can't be competitive and have an improved season.
"Personally, I've come from working with a lot of young players who were moving into senior ranks with my background and the gamestyle we'll look to play should suit our young kids."
Tom Brereton is the Bombers' reigning best and fairest after a consistent midfield season last year.
"Tommy has had a really good pre-season... he has been doing a lot of extra work which has been great," Bannan said.
It certainly promises to be a tough initiation into the season for Bannan and the Bombers, who in four of their first five games come up against four likely top three contenders in Lockington-Bamawm United, Mount Pleasant, North Bendigo and Colbinabbin.
The Bombers have the bye in the opening round.
"Numbers-wise across the club we're looking quite good as we've also added a few players to the reserves side as well," Bannan said.
"Our numbers at training through the pre-season have been around the 30 to 35-mark."
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Lauren Dehne.
Placing when season ended last year: Eighth.
Arrivals: Hannah Donehue, Taylah Henderson, Lucy Holdstock, Amy Walton.
First game: at Huntly (April 16).
PLENTY of young players and fresh legs and a bunch of talented coaches is the formula Leitchville-Gunbower hopes can propel it back up the HDFNL ladder.
Despite finishing last season with just one win, the Bombers were close to snaring a few more and were generally competitive.
But with a new coach at the helm and a boost in playing stocks, there is plenty of optimism that things are on the up.
"We've had a couple of practice matches and we feel like we have really competed well in those," netball operations manager Mandy Hutchinson said.
"We've played Cohuna a couple of times and we've got Riddells Creek and Boort coming up.
"We always enjoy a tussle with Cohuna, our neighbours, and we were happy with how it went.
"There is a really nice vibe at the club and things are looking positive."
There is a really nice vibe at the club and things are looking positive- Megan Hutchinson
The Bombers will be coached by Lauren Dehne, who won the Esther Cheatley Medal as the league's A-grade best and fairest with the Bombers in 2015, with Gemma Angove taking on the A-reserve role.
Hutchinson said the club could not be more thrilled with both appointments.
"They are very similar. I feel it will be really dynamic because they are both really competitive, heavily into fitness and really know the game of netball," she said.
"I think they are going to create something pretty special for us."
Dehne replaces Ashley Cullen (nee Bradley) and Kate Donehue as coach, with Cullen expected to make a delayed start to the season after recently giving birth to her and partner Andrew's first child.
The core of the Bombers squad will comprise classy young defender Macey Brereton, midcourters Emily Prout and Tannah Couchman and goaler Kelly Rayson.
Undoubtedly the player to watch is exciting midcourter Maddison Elliott, who won the HDFNL league's 17-and-under best and fairest last season, and will be keen to establish herself at the top level.
Fellow 17-and-unders from last year Shona Hore, who was second in the club best and fairest, and Jemma Baxter will also get their chances to impress in the A-squad, as will sisters Georgia (who played some A-grade last year) and Bethany McKellar.
A new addition to the A-squad is goaler Hannah Donehue, who has returned to the club, and is the daughter of last year's co-coach.
It's this mix of returning players, eager youngsters and recruits that the Bombers hope will yield success.
"There is a really good culture at the moment and Loz Dehne has already come up with plenty of ideas," Hutchinson said.
"It's really exciting."
The Bombers will have a delayed start to the season, playing at Huntly on Easter Saturday following a bye in round one.
Their first home game follows on April 23 against Lockington-Bamawm United at Gunbower.
ROUND 1 - April 9
ROUND 2 - April 16
v Huntly (a)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Lockington-Bamawm United (h)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Mount Pleasant (a)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v North Bendigo (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Colbinabbin (a)
ROUND 7 - May 21
v Elmore (h)
ROUND 8 - May 28
v White Hills (a)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Heathcote (h)
ROUND 10 - June 11
ROUND 11 - June 18
v Huntly (h)
ROUND 12 - June 25
v Lockington-Bamawm United (a)
ROUND 13 - July 2
v Mount Pleasant (h)
ROUND 14 - July 9
v North Bendigo (a)
ROUND 15 - July 16
v Colbinabbin (h)
ROUND 16 - July 23
v Elmore (a)
ROUND 17 - July 30
v White Hills (h)
ROUND 18 - August 6
v Heathcote (a)
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