Stepping into the powerful Eastern Football League’s Premier Division – arguably the strongest local football competition in Victoria – a lot of eyes will be firmly fixed on how Berwick travels in 2021. After a stunning period of success for the club, which culminated in premierships in 2015, 2017 and 2018, the Wickers are ready and primed for a new challenge. Nick Creely takes a look at how the Wickers are shaping up…
Nickname: The Wickers
Home ground: Edwin Flack Reserve, Berwick
Last premiership: 2018
President: Glenn Gambetta
Coach: Clint Evans
Captain: Luke Sheppard
Last season (2019): Runners-up in AFL Outer East Premier Division
Leading goalkicker: Harry Money (64)
Key ins: Anthony Vella (Cranbourne/Noble Park), Lewis Vella (Cranbourne), Anthony Burr (Cranbourne/Noble Park), Trent Thomas (Noble Park), Michael Riseley (Upper Ferntree Gully), Bryce Rutherford (Noble Park)
Key outs: Lucas Jellyman-Turner (Queensland), Jayden Joyce (Monbulk), Ashley Smith, James Magner (both retired)
What the coach says…
On the pre-season preparation
“Exciting is probably the perfect word. We’ve been tracking along well, both our practice matches have been good, we’ve put in some young kids. They’re fit, so it’s just about getting our number one side on the park.”
On entering the Eastern Football League’s top-flight
“We know we’re going into a really strong league. In that five years we’ve been dominant in Outer East and South East, the guys are now coming into that prime, and we’ve also got a new crop coming through who’ll be looking to take over that mantel. Sides are a lot different in this league, so there’s a lot of different things you’ve got to put into it – its exciting, but it’s an unknown for us.”
On the recruitment and list strategy
“We’ve retained basically everyone, and got them on board straight away which is great – once we had the opportunity to look at what we have, we were then lucky in recruiting. With the salary cap and the unknown, it was challenging. We’ve tried to recruit what we need, and then we’ve got guys back and a few young guys in too. What we wanted, we got.”
First five games: vs Noble Park (17 April), vs Rowville (24 April), vs Balwyn (1 May), vs North Ringwood (8 May), vs Doncaster (22 May).
More: What a mighty challenge 2021 presents to this south east powerhouse, who for so many years have been a revered force across the region.
A new league – one seen as the benchmark for Victorian community football – as well as new opponents, conditions and expectations make for one mouth-watering opportunity for not only the football club, and but the local community.
There’s much anticipation and focus on the Wickers heading into its first season in the Premier Division after winning three flags since 2015, and with new coach Clint Evans steering the ship, there is growing confidence that the group can do some damage and really push itself against the likes of Vermont, Blackburn, Balwyn and many more powerful clubs.
A round one blockbuster against Noble Park – the Wickers’ closest Eastern rival – will make for spectacular viewing for a variety of reasons, with the 17 April clash expecting to draw a monster crowd at the picturesque Edwin Flack Reserve.
Understanding the need to tinker with the list slightly after 2019’s runners-up finish to Narre Warren and the power of the Eastern league, Evans has set about bringing back some former premiership heroes to the club, as well as lock away almost all of its champion list.
Headlining the list of returnees/recruits is star ex-skipper Bryce Rutherford, one of the south east’s most dominant and respected midfielders, gun defender Michael Riseley who played with Woori Yallock in 2019 but comes via Upper Ferntree Gully, as well as dynamic forward Trent Thomas. Anthony Vella and Anthony Burr are also two huge additions to the Wickers after joining the club via Noble Park, but played at Cranbourne in 2019.
Vella – who has VFL experience with the Casey Demons and Port Melbourne – in particular is pure class with ball in hand and an elite runner who will add another element of speed and dare to the Wickers.
One of the Wickers’ major strengths will be its midfield group, headlined by Bryce Rutherford, Madi Andrews, Travis Tuck, Anthony Vella and many more, while the forward and backlines are unbelievably stable and possess a strong mix of power and running ability.
After kicking 64 goals in 2019, and 56 in 2018, Harry Money is another to keep an eye on. He’s a handful for opposition defenders because of his ability overhead plus his speed at ground level and is sure to relish the challenge of playing on Eastern’s defenders after a couple of dominant seasons. The likes of Tim Gunn, Jo West, Tom Brennan and Bailey Asher are also unheralded stars who are also vitally important to the side’s fortunes.
After missing 2019 with a knee injury, skipper Luke Sheppard is basically a new recruit for the club and is a genuine line-breaking player capable of tearing the game apart.
The Wickers will certainly feel the loss of Lucas Jellyman-Turner, but feel it has plenty of depth and kids coming through to cover the speedster’s departure.
It won’t be an easy opening month of the season for Evans’ group, with the Bulls to open the season, before Rowville (fourth in 2019) and Balwyn (second in 2019) in consecutive weeks, but one thing is for certain, the Wickers won’t take a backwards step.