By Luke West
ALTHOUGH the scoreboard may have shown a tough season last year, Newbridge coach Luke Freeman is optimistic the Maroons have laid the groundwork for an improved 2022 in the Loddon Valley league.
The Maroons are coming off a 2-9 record last year in what was Freeman's first season at the helm as coach.
"We had a really inexperienced list last year, but being able to give our young guys a taste of senior footy was really valuable," Freeman said.
"We saw massive improvement from round one to the end of the year and our young players have been able to gain a lot of confidence from what they were able to achieve through the year.
"We weren't overly concerned with the wins and losses, it was the way we played that we focused on and saw improvement in and our players have taken a bit of confidence out of that into the pre-season.
"We've now got a group that has a bit of senior experience behind it and with that comes confidence, but we're also bringing in some more experienced guys to help that development."
We've now got a group that has a bit of senior experience behind it and with that comes confidence, but we're also bringing in some more experienced guys to help that development- Luke Freeman
Among the experience the Maroons have added to their list is the return of 2018 premiership player Will Daly.
Daly is rejoining the Maroons having played with Kyneton in the Bendigo league last year.
"It's great to have Will back at the club and he gives us some options. He played down back with Kyneton and a little bit in defence with us previously, but he'll spend a bit of time in the midfield this year," Freeman said.
"He's one of those really gritty type of players... very fit and strong and was vice-captain at Kyneton last year, so he brings that leadership with him as well.
The Maroons have also signed midfielder Jordan Formosa from Huntly, ruckman Pat Andrews, South Bendigo's Tyler McLeod and North Bendigo's Caleb Sanders, who will play in defence.
"Josh Formosa is a really good signing for us as that goalkicking midfielder-type player. He has been massive for us already in terms of his work ethic and attitude to his training, which has helped take our younger guys to another level," Freeman said.
The Maroons have also had a strong player retention from last year's list, with the only departures from the 2021 regular senior side being Ricky Cathie and Josh Connolly.
Newbridge's side includes reigning LVFNL Harding medallist Harry Whittle, who won with 15 votes in his first season with the club.
"Hopefully, we can get another great year out of Harry again. He was enormous last year and just what we needed with a young group," Freeman said.
"He is a player who with his experience we could just rely on to get the job done every week.
"Having strengthened our midfield this year it will give us that flexibility to be able to play Harry forward a bit more, which should give us that ability to be able to score a bit more.
"Our first goal is to obviously improve on the number of wins from last year and then be aiming to play some finals footy from there."
The Maroons have the bye in the opening round.
By Kieran Iles
Coach: Selina Holland.
Placing when season ended last year: Seventh.
Arrivals: Brianna Burt, Meg Jennings, Sarah McCluskey, Georgie Hyett, Abby Rowley, Morgan McCormick, Kym Childs.
Departures: Rachel Pettifer, Sharlene Hannig, Malkah Lara, Gemma Steel.
First game: at Mitiamo (April 9).
IT WILL be a fresh-look Newbridge which takes to the court in 2022.
The Maroons return only two players from last season's line-up, one at each end of the court.
Goal keeper Sarah Lovell and goal shooter Jorja Hufer remain from the team, which finished seventh last season with a 1-9 record.
The remainder of the A-grade squad will be a mix of newcomers, players returning to the court following a break, and some fresh and some familiar faces stepping up from B-grade.
Among those returning to A-grade are 2017 league best and fairest Meg Jennings, who played B-grade last season, and Brianna Burt, who is back at Newbridge.
The pair will provide much-needed experience to a Maroons team expected to take a little time adjusting to one another, with Burt to partner fellow dual-code athlete Hufer in the shooting circle.
Jennings finished among the leaders in last season's league medal count, won by her Maroons team-mate Jasmine Daly.
The Maroons have lured Georgie Hyett from Eaglehawk and former Mount Pleasant junior Sarah McCluskey, while Morgan McCormick and Abby Rowley will get their chance to impress, stepping up from B-grade.
In a further boost to their depth, the Maroons have secured multiple-premiership-winning goal shooter and dual Joy Lawry Medal winner Kym Childs from Bridgewater as playing B-grade coach.
The Maroons had been hopeful of luring back 2019 grand final coach Jane Reid after a year off last season, but the goal shooter has signed with BFNL club Golden Square.
She will be joined at the Bulldogs by another former Maroons coach Rachel Pettifer, who had stamped herself as one of the premier midcourters in the Loddon Valley league over the past five seasons.
Pettifer led all Maroons players in last season's Helen Ward Medal count, won for a fourth time by star Mitiamo goal attack Laura Hicks.
Newbridge coach Selina Holland, who is into her third season at the helm of A-grade, is embracing the challenge of leading a fresh and new-look team.
"We've had that group of girls who have played together a lot over a long time and now we've had a turnover of players and it's a fresh time," she said.
We've had that group of girls who have played together a lot over a long time and now we've had a turnover of players and it's a fresh time- Selina Holland
"So far they are bringing a lot of energy and we've only had a few practice matches.
"We had one against Heathcote (on March 15) which gives us a bit of an indication of where we are at.
"But at the moment everything is looking good. A lot of fresh faces has really energised the place. We'll be giving it our best shot."
Holland is keen to see what McCormick, a goaler, and Rowley can produce given their A-grade chance, and praised the experience and enthusiasm Childs had brought with her to Newbridge.
The Maroons face a challenging start to their campaign with a bye in round one, followed by a clash against powerhouse Mitiamo, a league-wide bye for Easter and a round three match-up against Maiden Gully YCW.
They also have consecutive weeks off on June 11 and 18 in the middle of the season.
ROUND 1 - April 2
ROUND 2 - April 9
v Mitiamo (h)
ROUND 3 - April 23
v Maiden Gully YCW (a)
ROUND 4 - April 30
v Inglewood (h)
ROUND 5 - May 7
v Marong (h)
ROUND 6 - May 14
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (a)
ROUND 7 - May 21
v Bridgewater (h)
ROUND 8 - May 28
v Pyramid Hill (a)
ROUND 9 - June 4
v Calivil United (h)
ROUND 10 - June 18
ROUND 11 - June 25
v Mitiamo (a)
ROUND 12 - July 2
v Maiden Gully YCW (h)
ROUND 13 - July 9
v Inglewood (a)
ROUND 14 - July 16
v Marong (a)
ROUND 15 - July 23
v Bears Lagoon-Serpentine (h)
ROUND 16 - July 30
v Bridgewater (a)
ROUND 17 - August 6
v Pyramid Hill (h)
ROUND 18 - August 13
v Calivil United (a)
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.