Time for sides to ‘shake off rust’

Casterton Sandford v Millicent

After sides shook off the Christmas pudding and preseason rust in last weekend’s opening round, it is time to build some form before the 2022 Bendigo Bank Western Border Football League season takes its first break in Easter.

The chocolate will taste much sweeter for those teams who register wins this weekend with some looking to fire into 2022 with a barnstorming 2-0 start, while others are looking to get off the mark.

Six months ago a Millicent road-trip to Casterton would not excite too many fans with the eventual premiers coming up against the wooden spooners.

However, more eyes will be on the contest this year with the roles reversed.

The Cats are ready to defend home turf in front of a buzzing home crowd following their first win in two and a half years.

With a full preseason under its belt, Casterton Sandford looked a revitalised outfit playing with the freedom and flare Kane Forbes envisaged.

One player who thrived in the environment was Hamish McCrae, who not only threw himself at every ruck contest, but also laid some hard tackles and kicked three important goals.

The Cats were clean with the Sherrin, but also did not lose the ability to apply immense pressure on the ball carrier to restrict West’s runners.

The 29-point win has given the team the belief it can compete against anyone in 2022.

“We want to be 2-0 at the break and we know Millicent will be a massive challenge, but we have started the right way and we can fight with them,” Forbes said.

The Saints could not complete a fairytale homecoming for Tom Hutchesson or the premiership flag and went down to last year’s grand final opponent South Gambier.

Although the loss will hurt, Millicent coach Clint Gallio can take heart by the way his midfield produced a hard battle for possession until the final siren.

The Saints produced the same amount of scoring shots as South, but struggled to convert as they searched for a new scoring method without Gene Robinson.

The engine room features big names such as Hutchesson, Clint Gallio, Jacob Carger and Sam Willis and they all made key breakthroughs on the scoreboard.

These names will be turned to once again to get the first win on the board in Millicent’s premiership defence.

North Gambier v West Gambier

The 2019 WBFL grand final aspirants meet for the first time in 2022 at Vansittart Park in unique positions.

North Gambier showed some grit overcoming some COVID-19 concerns and a slow start to topple arch rival East Gambier away from home.

The game was a glimpse of the new structure implemented by coach Ben Hardy, which provided the rare sight of Justin McConnell playing in the midfield.

The move worked as some youngsters and familiar faces shined which could leave Hardy with some tough choices on the selection table if the squad returns to full strength.

West Gambier is now led by Daron McElroy, who received plenty of encouraging signs despite the loss to Casterton Sandford.

His young team never gave up until the final siren with Mitch Cornolo standing tall on senior debut and Lewis Lean enjoying a productive return to the club.

But it will be a tall order for the inexperienced squad to gel quickly against a more senior North outfit.

South Gambier v East Gambier

East Gambier was one of just two teams to topple South Gambier last year, but few will expect the Demons to fall short at Blue Lake Sports Park this weekend.

The Demons are hungry to write the wrongs of last year and appeared an even better outfit scoring with and against the wind at McLaughlin Park.

Coach Brayden Kain appeared in ominous form, while James Paproptny, Hamish Stevens and Liam Delaney entered the starting 18 like they were always meant to be there.

It might take a little longer for the new-look Bulldogs to find their feet under the guidance of co coaches Jayden Eldridge and Matt Scanlon.

Captain John Forster showed his leadership qualities, but a four-quarter effort is a must after a combined total of 1.4 across the first and third terms cost East dearly in Round 1.

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