BRIDGEWATER is building a list that should have the Mean Machine right back in the thick of the premiership conversation in the Loddon Valley league next year.
Having already signed star forward Lachlan Sharp to join Rick Ladson as co-coach, the Mean Machine has added another three players from Strathfieldsaye, including two who are Storm premiership team-mates of Sharp.
Strathfieldsaye premiership players Harry Conway (2015, 2017 and 2019) and Jack Neylon (2017 and 2019) have also signed with Bridgewater for next season.
And defender Joe Mayes is also headed back to Bridgewater after playing with Strathfieldsaye this season, while Xavier Walsh is on the move from Sandhurst to the Mean Machine.
After what has been a young Bridgewater side that has taken to the park over the past two years, making a grand final in 2022 and the first semi-final this season, it will be a far more experienced Mean Machine in 2024.
Conway is pulling the boots back on next year after spending this season travelling around Australia and offers the Mean Machine enormous flexibility.
As well as being a three-time premiership player with Strathfieldsaye, Conway - who kicked the match-sealing goal for the Storm in the 2019 grand final win over Eaglehawk - is also a three-time inter-league player with Bendigo and has been on Richmond's VFL list.
"The beauty with Harry is the fact he can play all facets of the game well," Ladson said on Monday.
"He can play as a tall target up forward, but he can also be that attacking defender as well as being a very handy midfielder. In terms of where he is going to fit in, it will be a mix of everything to be honest.
"One of the challenges we are going to have for the group is for our players to develop in all areas... we aren't going to fixate anyone to just one position, we're going to try to get our players to learn their craft in every area.
"With Harry the great thing is that no matter where you put his magnet, you know he's going to go well and that's fantastic from a coaching point of view.
"He's super excited to get back into playing football. His family business is run out of Bridgewater and he's working hard there, so it has worked out well for us."
Like Conway, Neylon is also returning to football after a year out of the game having spent the 2023 season playing cricket in England.
"Jack has spent six months overseas playing cricket and enjoying that side of his sport and life," Ladson said.
"Like Harry, he's keen to get back into it again... get a good pre-season in and have some fun. He's really excited by the opportunity.
"We know what Jack can deliver in terms of playing in the backline and he has shown he has the ability to shut down quality opposition forwards when he was at Strathfieldsaye.
"But I think where we can develop his game and he can help us is through the midfield. I think he can stand up through there and take his game to another level learning the midfield craft.
"We know that when he goes down back he's going to get the job done, but I think you will see him play a fair bit of midfield for us."
A former player at Bridgewater, defender Mayes has spent the past two years at Strathfieldsaye and played 35 senior games - including last year's losing grand final to Gisborne - across those two seasons.
"Maysey is obviously that attacking, running half-back, but he can also play on talls as well," Ladson said.
"One of the areas we've tried to strengthen up in is with our running half-backs and our set-up behind the footy. Joey has been out at our footy club before, played some good footy at Strathfieldsaye and we're just rapt that he wanted to come back out and he's going to be a massive addition for us."
And midfielder Walsh looks set to resume his senior football career at the Mean Machine after spending the past two seasons in the reserves at Sandhurst, which included being part of this year's reserves premiership.
Walsh last played senior football with Colbinabbin in 2019.
"I can see Xav playing through the midfield for us and a little bit up forward as well, but also has that versatility to go back as well," Laddo said.
"He's a great character who has had a couple of bad injuries over the past few years, but he's at a great age to come back out and start playing senior footy again.
"He is going to bring a lot of aggression and energy around the footy for us."
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