The football and netball season is well and truly upon us.
Round one has a tendency of sneaking up on you — with just one weekend’s grace between the end of cricket season and the first bounce or centre-throw of the year — but once it arrives it creates a whole new buzz.
Don’t get me wrong — I am a massive cricket tragic — but when the kit hits the back of the cupboard for the final time it feels like a new lease on life.
Cricket can be a draining, grinding and dour contest at times — but there is nothing better than the scent of liniment in the air and the crash of bodies that signals that footy is back.
For some though, the approaching football and netball season had been tinged with anxiety over whether or not they would even be able to play this year.
And while I am not here to touch specifically on the Picola District Football Netball League saga again, the result of it will likely have changes to three of the four leagues in our coverage area after the season had already begun.
The north-west and south-east divisions of the old Picola league have merged, Dookie United has joined the Kyabram District Football Netball League and Shepparton East, Tungamah and Katandra will enter Murray’s respective football and netball leagues.
It certainly throws a spanner in the works of the pre-season predictions printed in this year’s McPherson Media Group football and netball magazine — but may also answer an age-old question surrounding the level of each league in the area.
Let’s start with the latter.
There are many ways to assess the standard of each football and netball league and place them on a ladder from highest to lowest.
Interleague results are a key determining factor, but these can sway wildly from year-to-year depending on player availability and buy-in, travel or a number of other mitigating factors.
The inclusion of top level talent — in the form of ex-AFL players or VNA stars, for example — can also sway public opinion on the standard of each competition, but again it is vastly proven that a champion team is much preferred to a team of champions.
So until now, all we have had to go on in ranking leagues (for the record, I believe in this region last year it went Goulburn Valley League, Murray, Kyabram, Picola south-east then Picola north-west) is largely subjective evidence.
But this year we have the perfect opportunity to gain some objective statistics on how at least some of the leagues compare to each other.
The Eagles, Bears, Kats and Dookie have all prepared for a Picola south-east season, but will face what should be stiffer opposition in their new competitions.
How the quartet fares will help sway the debate once and for all in deciding which league ranks where in this region.
The merged Picola league will also showcase the respective standards of the two former divisions.
The old south-east crew has lost its top two teams (after the regular season), as well as two of the predicted movers ahead of this season.
Reigning premier Rennie has lost a swathe of talent, while Waaia, Katunga and Katamatite will be confident of dominant showings against former north-west teams.
But does this quartet automatically stride straight to the top of the merged league? I am not so sure.
And what of Dookie United?
There is a distinct gap between the best and worst teams in the Kyabram District league, but will Dookie slot somewhere in the middle or firmly join one of the halves?
When you add netball teams the questions are almost endless, and the only way we will find any answers is to assess the results at the end of the year.
But at least we will have concrete evidence come September of how each league stacks up against the other.
That brings us to predictions.
How do I think each league will shape up now that the faces of them have changed?
In all honesty, I don’t harbour much hope for the finals chances of the trio of teams entering the Murray league, but I think Dookie will hold its own in its new competition.
As for the new Picola league, I feel the gap may just widen between the top and bottom sides — but that remains to be seen.
In the interest of fairness, I will keep the initial predictions of the Murray football ladder in the same order as it appeared in the magazine — despite seeing round one results — and simply slot the new sides in where I think they will land.
The netball is harder to judge, and without ladder predictions I will just assess each team.
TYLER MAHER’S REVISED PREDICTIONS
Murray — Football
Murray — Netball
The three incoming teams may find it tough to compete with the top sides like Moama, Deniliquin and Tongala.
It feels like the overall standard of Murray Netball League has improved out of sight this year as well, so I think Shepparton East, Katandra and Tungamah will all slot into the ninth to 15th bracket.
Kyabram — Football
Kyabram — Netball
I think Dookie can legitimately challenge for the KDNL flag after just missing the Picola south-east premiership last season, and I am tipping it to slot into fourth and win a final — at least.
Picola — Football
Picola — Netball
This new competition presents the most enticing match-ups of the lot.
Waaia v Tocumwal will be a battle for the ages, Katunga will be keen to rebound from a disappointing finals series and Rennie and Katamatite will certainly hold their own.
I’m slotting the Bombers into second on the table and playing them off against the Bloods in the decider, while I think Katunga will snare a double-chance in the new top eight system.
The Grasshoppers and Tigers will also make finals, but will not win their respective elimination clashes.