A review of the 2017 A Plus Labour Solutions Division 2 season.
North Heidelberg entered the season as the raging favourite to win the flag and delivered in spades – losing just one game on its way to its second Division 2 premiership in four years.
Dominant seasons from the Harvey and Tardio brothers ensured the Bulldogs set the pace all season long – winning their final 12 games in succession to storm back into the top flight in 2018.
While North Heidelberg was the benchmark, there were a number of worthy challengers – headlined by Diamond Creek, who continued its development under Craig Hayes in his third season at the helm.
Led by a host of youngsters, the Creekers won 15 of 16 games against opponents other than the Bulldogs to progress through to their first senior grand final since 2005.
Fitzroy Stars and Lower Plenty rounded out the top four and both looked premierships threats when they played their best football. The Stars were the only team to take points off North Heidelberg, managing a win and a draw against the premiers, while Lower’s outstanding top-end talent guided them to a preliminary final finish.
Thomastown finished fifth for the third-successive year, but showed much improvement in Ben Chapman’s first year as coach. The Bears were in finals contention for the entire season, despite missing a host of key midfielders for much of the year.
Watsonia quickly found its feet in its return to Division 2 – winning six games and never looking in relegation threat. The Saints’ ensured history repeated, with no Division 3 premier ever relegated in its first season back in second division.
Lalor and Panton Hill fought out the relegation battle, with the Bloods managing to avoid the wooden spoon by winning all three encounters against the Redbacks throughout the year – confirming their place in Division 2 next year with a 14-point win in Round 15.
Brent Harvey took all before him in his first season back at grassroots level following two decades in the AFL with North Melbourne. The AFL games record holder won the competition best and fairest ahead of brother Shane.
Lower Plenty ruckman Patrick Flynn was third in the competition best and fairest voting, but took out the Coaches Player of the Year Award. Flynn polled 50 votes in the final seven rounds of the year to pip Brent Harvey by six votes.
Jesse Tardio finished fourth in the best and fairest and third in the Coaches Player of the Year voting, but saved his best performance for the grand final. The North Heidelberg midfielder was dominant in the premiership decider and claimed his second best on ground medal, after also winning the medal in the 2014 grand final win over the Fitzroy Stars.
Shane Harvey topped the goal kicking with 106 majors in the regular season. It was the first time since 2013 that a player has reached the ton in an NFL senior competition. Harvey added another nine in his two finals appearances, including five in the grand final.
Continue below for a season review for each Division 2 team:
Premier (18 wins, 1 draw, 1 loss)
Prior to the season commencing, North Heidelberg coach Stephen Saddington said “anything less than the ultimate is probably going to be a disappointing year from our behalf.” His side certainly delivered on its pre-season ambition – putting together a dominant campaign to claim its second Division 2 flag in four seasons. The Bulldogs had an early slip-up when they lost to the Fitzroy Stars in Round 2, however the defeat proved only to be a blip on the radar as they charged through the remainder of the year undefeated. Despite a 6-1-1 start, North sat atop the ladder for only one week in the opening two months of the season. However, their true dominance was asserted in the back half of the year. They returned to first with a tight win over Lower Plenty in Round 9 and did not relinquish top spot for the remainder of the season. The Bulldogs recorded seven wins by more than 100 points, and rounded out their campaign with three consecutive 70+ point wins over Diamond Creek – including the 77-point grand final victory. As expected, AFL games record holder Brent Harvey proved to be unstoppable throughout the year. The star midfielder took out the competition best and fairest award and kicked 55 goals. His brother Shane was equally dominant and finished runner-up in the umpires’ voting. He topped the goal kicking table, finishing the season with 115 majors despite missing three matches during the middle of the year. The Harveys weren’t the only standout siblings in the side, with Jesse and Brody Tardio both producing massive campaigns. Jesse finished inside the top-four in both the best and fairest and Coaches Player of the Year voting and capped his season with a best on ground performance in the grand final. At just 19 years of age, Brody was a revelation and featured in the Bulldogs best players on 11 occasions. He was one of seven Bulldog players picked in the Team of the Year, of which Steve Saddington was named coach. Nick Matthews had a strong year in defence after joining from Montmorency, while fellow recruits Adam Braendler and Liam Nunan were also solid in their first year at the Kennel.
Most times in best: Brent Harvey (14)
Leading goal kicker: Shane Harvey (115 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jake Brown, Leigh Gilbert, Brent Harvey, Shane Harvey, Marc Lonergan, Brody Tardio, Jesse Tardio and Steve Saddington (coach)
Runner-Up (15 wins, 6 losses)
Despite ultimately being no match for North Heidelberg, season 2017 was certainly still very much of a success for Diamond Creek. A host of youngsters guided the club through to its first senior grand final since 2005, continuing the club’s upward climb under Craig Hayes. A testament to Diamond Creek’s consistency was the fact that its record stood at 15-1 in matches against opponents other than North Heidelberg. Just reaching the grand final was a remarkable achievement given the club’s long injury run, which saw players such as Hugh Kavanagh, Jess Cosaitis, Jai Norman and Jack Prosser all play fewer than 10 games. Instead it was the likes of Jacob Booth, Oliver Parks, Tyler Barnes and Ty Franks who all produced outstanding campaigns to help keep their side inside the top-two from Round 3 onwards. Josh Marchbank was influential in his first year at the club and was one of the competition’s premier ruckmen. Unfortunately, an injury early in the grand final denied him a chance to have a big say in the premiership decider. Bryce Adams enjoyed a strong second half of the year and provided a strong marking target after Jess Cosaitis succumbed to a shoulder injury, while Brad Perry and Chris Moloney’s efforts were again rewarded with selection in the Team of the Year.
Most times in best: Tyler Barnes and Oliver Parks (9)
Leading goal kicker: Bryce Adams and Jess Cosaitis (31 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Tyler Barnes, Josh Marchbank, Chris Moloney and Brad Perry
3rd (12 wins, 8 losses)
After five years in the top flight, Lower Plenty produced a solid return to Division 2. The Bears played finals football for the first time since 2011 and produced one of their best performances for the year in a 53-point first semi final win over the Fitzroy Stars. At their best, the Bears looked a genuine threat for the flag. However, in the end their third-place finish was an accurate representation of where they sat in the pecking order – unable to beat neither North Heidelberg or Diamond Creek in seven attempts, while finishing with a 3-1 record over fourth-placed Fitzroy Stars. A place in the finals looked in jeopardy at Round 15, when the Bears sat a win outside the top-four, before a solid end to the year ensured they leapfrogged Thomastown on the ladder. Patrick Flynn reaffirmed his status as one of the competition’s best ruckmen, producing a dominant season. Flynn was named in Lower Plenty’s best players in all but four games and claimed his second-straight Coaches Player of the Year title, after also winning the award in Division 1 last year. Skipper Darcy Barden kicked 63 majors, which included six bags of five goals or more, while Tom Keys remained a consistent performer. Ben Paterson was a revelation in his first complete season of senior football, kicking 35 goals and earning selection in the Team of the Year. New recruit Fabian Dorbolo made a significant contribution in his first year with the club, while Jordan Sacco also had a strong season.
Most times in best: Patrick Flynn (16)
Leading goal kicker: Darcy Barden (63 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Darcy Barden, Patrick Flynn, Tom Keys and Ben Paterson
4th (11 wins, 1 draw, 7 losses)
Failed to progress past the opening week of the finals for the third-successive year, despite looking the side most capable of challenging North Heidelberg. The Stars were the only side to beat the Bulldogs in 2017, finishing with a win and a draw in their three contests against the eventual premier. There is no doubt North Heidelberg would have breathed a small sigh of relief when the Stars were eliminated from the finals race in the first semi final. Despite matching up well against the Bulldogs, a number of disappointing losses – most notably a Round 9 upset against Watsonia and a Round 12 drubbing from Lower Plenty – denied the Stars a double chance in the finals. The often-unheralded Allan Norris took his game to another level in 2017 and claimed his first best and fairest award. Clinton Benjamin was again a model of consistency in his second year with the club and was again named in the Team of the Year, along with Peter Hood and Kain Proctor. Hood spent more time in the back half and offered outstanding link-up play from defence, while Proctor backed up last year’s breakthrough season with an even better campaign to finish fifth in the competition best and fairest. Clinton Edwards returned after a year away and had a strong year in the ruck, while Malcolm Dow was outstanding at ground level. Vaasili Tuifao was a revelation, joining the club late in the pre-season before proving to be a strong replacement for 2016 leading goal kicker Daniel Francis, with 52 majors. The Stars will enter a new era in 2018, following the retirement of club legend and two-time league best and fairest Lionel Proctor.
Most times in best: Clinton Benjamin and Kain Proctor (11)
Leading goal kicker: Vaasili Tuifao (52 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Clinton Benjamin, Peter Hood and Kain Proctor
5th (9 wins, 9 losses)
Ben Chapman’s first season at the helm brought significant improvement for Thomastown. The Bears finished in fifth place for the third-consecutive year, but managed four more wins than in 2016. Despite a number of the club’s key players missing much of the season, Thomastown sat just percentage outside the top-four with two rounds remaining. Matthew Vasilevski had a profound influence in his first season at Main Street Reserve after crossing from Greenvale. The two-time Frank Rosbrook medallist won the Bears’ best and fairest and was named in the centre in the Team of the Year, edging out a host of star midfielders for the honour. Matthew Dirkx showed huge improvement and finished second for the club champion award, ahead of Adrian Natoli and Josh Beare. Jacob Osei Duro overcame injury to kick 33 goals – kicking three goals or more in eight of his 14 matches. Daniel Chadwick made a strong return to the club from Northcote Park before injury ended his season at Round 9. The midfielder was sitting second in the competition best and fairest prior to the injury. His absence was compounded by the loss of fellow midfielders Matthew Cupo and James Rizzolio in the back half of the year. Thomastown’s best win for the season was recorded in Round 9 when, despite missing a host of key players, it ended Diamond Creek’s seven-game winning streak in a 12-point upset at Coventry Oval.
Most times in best: Matthew Vasilevski (10)
Leading goal kicker: Jacob Osei-Duro (33 goals)
Team of the Year representatives: Jacob Osei-Duro and Matthew Vasilevski
6th (6 wins, 12 losses)
Disregard the win-loss column – 2017 was a successful campaign for Watsonia. The Saints held their own in their first season back in Division 2 following last year’s Division 3 premiership success. A 27-point win over Panton Hill in Round 1 was the perfect beginning to the year and after a 2-2 start, the Saints never looked in threat of relegation. There were a number of heavy defeats throughout the year, however for the majority of the season Watsonia showed it is capable of matching it in the higher grade. The club’s best result came in Round 9, when it stunned Fitzroy Stars by six points at A.K. Lines Reserve. Just six rounds earlier the Saints lost to the Stars by 94 points at the same venue. The club’s 6-12 record could easily have been as good as 9-9 – given the Saints were the only side to lose to Panton Hill and also lost three matches to Thomastown after being in winning positions. After taking out the 2016 Division 3 best and fairest, Matthew Crompton was again a standout in 2017 and was named in his side’s best players in 15 of 18 games. After four games with the Saints back in 2014, Ben Anderson returned from Lancefield and finished runner-up to the Crompton for the best and fairest. Ben Sutherland and Kyle Kemp both had solid campaigns, while Adrian Alfonsi (31 goals), Allan Young (26) and Jeremy Bennett (23) provided strong targets inside 50. After three successful seasons at the helm, coach Corey McCall announced his departure from the club at season’s end. Jarrad Carey has been appointed as McCall’s replacement.
Most times in best: Matthew Crompton (15)
Leading goal kicker: Adrian Alfonsi (31 goals)
7th (3 wins, 15 losses)
Another tough campaign for the Bloods, in what proved to be Jarrod King’s sole season as coach. For the second-straight year the club won just three games, meaning it has won just six of 34 games since narrowly losing the 2015 grand final to Whittlesea. The Bloods lost Todd Hughes and Scott Dowell to Bundoora late in the pre-season and were unable to replace the key duo – who both went on to play key roles in the Bulls’ Division 1 premiership. The season began with a competitive defeat to Thomastown, before being held goalless by Diamond Creek in a 115-point drubbing on ANZAC Day. However, the Bloods showed great spirit and rebounded from the heavy loss with a vital away win at Panton Hill in Round 3. The club endured heartache in Round 6 when it led Thomastown by 38 points at three-quarter-time, only to be overrun in an eight-goal to zero final term. They did manage to atone for that result in Round 9, when they kicked five of the final six goals to down Panton Hill by six points. Their third win of the season was recorded in Round 15 – downing the Redbacks for the third time to ensure their place in Division 2 in 2018. Jhye Baddeley-Kelly had a breakthrough season, winning the club’s best and fairest and earning selection on the half back flank in the Team of the Year. Shane Jacobs again performed to a high level, while Shannon Smith, Ben Curtiss and Harley Nancarrow were solid contributors. The club will be coached by former player Dean Grainger next season.
Most times in best: Jhye Baddeley-Kelly (13)
Leading goal kicker: Shannon Smith (22 goals)
Team of the Year representative: Jhye Baddeley-Kelly
8th (1 wins, 17 losses)
Panton Hill’s four-year stint in Division 2 came to an end following a one-win campaign in 2017. A host of injuries exposed a lack of depth, as the Redbacks battled to keep pace in a strong field in Division 2 – conceding an average of 136 points per game. Despite being on the receiving end of many heavy defeats, Joffa Byron’s side showed great resilience to keep fronting up and were finally rewarded with a breakthrough win in Round 13, when they downed Watsonia by 35 points. The result gave the Redbacks hope of avoiding relegation, however their fate was sealed by a 14-point loss to Lalor a fortnight later. Matthew Fowler joined the club one month into the season and was a standout – helping to offset the departure of Tyler Scarce and Matt Duckworth in the summer. The 2014 Greensborough premiership midfielder claimed the Redbacks best and fairest, despite playing just 13 games. He received strong support from Mitch Anderson, Scott Conte and Tom Blake – all of whom backed up their good form from 2016. Anderson was the club’s sole representative in the Team of the Year. Panton Hill has appointed Steve Layt as coach for its return to Division 3 and has announced the signing of former Greensborough leading goalkicker Rhys Boyden. It looms as a key acquisition for the Redbacks after managing only 148 goals this year – at an average of just eight per game.
Most times in best: Matthew Fowler (12)
Leading goal kicker: Jonty Rushton (18 goals)
Team of the Year representative: Mitch Anderson
A PLUS LABOUR SOLUTIONS DIVISION 2 – 2017 REVIEW
First Semi Final: Fitzroy Stars 8.11 (59) def by Lower Plenty 17.10 (112)
Second Semi Final: North Heidelberg 19.12 (126) def Diamond Creek 9.2 (56)
Preliminary Final: Diamond Creek 10.11 (71) def Lower Plenty 9.10 (64)
Grand Final: North Heidelberg 19.15 (129) def Diamond Creek 7.10 (52)
Best and Fairest
1st – Brent Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 26 votes
2nd – Shane Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 23 votes
3rd – Patrick Flynn (Lower Plenty) – 22 votes
4th – Jesse Tardio (North Heidelberg) – 18 votes
5th – Kain Proctor (Fitzroy Stars) – 14 votes
Leading Goal Kicker (home and away only)
1st – Shane Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 106 goals
2nd – Darcy Barden (Lower Plenty) – 59 goals
3rd – Brent Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 55 goals
4th – Vaasili Tuifao (Fitzroy Stars) – 52 goals
5th – Leigh Gilbert (North Heidelberg) – 38 goals
Coaches Player of the Year
1st – Patrick Flynn (Lower Plenty) – 92 votes
2nd – Brent Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 86 votes
3rd – Jesse Tardio (North Heidelberg) – 82 votes
4th – Darcy Barden (Lower Plenty) – 73 votes
5th – Shane Harvey (North Heidelberg) – 66 votes