BENDIGO Pioneers are coming off another year of potential, but falling short during the season, taking out the 2017 wooden spoon. They had plenty of moments throughout the year that showed recruiters and fans that there was plenty of talent, which was highlighted on draft night with an equal club-record seven draftees selected – six in the AFL National Draft, and two in the top 10. While that did not equate to wins on the field, the Pioneers were rarely at full-strength given their star players had school and state commitments throughout the season.
Paddy Dow and Lochie O’Brien will now be able to show off their class for Carlton on the biggest stage, drafted along with Angus Schumacher. Jarrod Brander (West Coast), Kane Farrell (Port Adelaide) and Brent Daniels (GWS) were all drafted interstate, while Derek Smith Jnr was picked up by Richmond under the Next Generation Academy program.
In 2018, the Pioneers might not have the ridiculous top-end class they did last year, but there are still a number of highly rated prospects. At the top of most recruiters lists will be Jye Caldwell – a player who burst onto the scene at the National Under 16 Championships – and Jacob Atley, who will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of his brother’s Shaun and Joe. In terms of depth, Daine Grace showed signs at times he could be an imposing tall with good agility, while Liam Marciano and Phill Moimoi are other players who stood out in their bottom-age years.
One overager we are excited to see back is Bailey Henderson who had a good mix of skill and poise, and was unlucky not to be drafted last year. He will be a real figurehead in the midfield and expect him to be working more on his inside game to add another string to his bow. Overall in 2018, the Pioneers will have just two players – Henderson and Atley – who played double figure games last season. Grace played seven games and Marciano six, the only four players with more than five games to their name.
There is no hiding the fact that the Bendigo Pioneers did not have a good season on paper last year, especially considering the high hopes that a squad with the talent the Pioneers had. In saying that, they did knock off grand finalists Sandringham Dragons in round six, as well as GWV Rebels (round two) and Western Jets (round eight). After holding a win-loss record of 3-5 after eight rounds, there was hope in the team making its first finals series in some time, but unfortunately for the Pioneers, they lost the last 10 games of the season to finish 3-15.
They did take it up to Calder Cannons, Northern Knights and Gippsland Power in the second half of the season however, so there were some positives to take out of it. While the results were not ideal, the number one goal of the competition is development and the Pioneers nailed it in 2017. They had seven drafted and a couple of those already look like making an impact at AFL level. It was a credit to the hard work the Pioneers staff put in, with many travelling long distances and spending many hours getting the players up and about for the weekend games.
Bendigo Pioneers are renowned travellers and they start their season on the road this Saturday at Mars Stadium against the GWV Rebels. They then travel to Shepparton in round two to face the Murray Bushrangers, before back-to-back games at Queen Elizabeth Oval against Gippsland Power and Oakleigh Chargers. The Pioneers play just six games at Queen Elizabeth Oval in 2018, and none at Epsom Huntly Reserve, meaning road trips are inevitable. They will hope to get off to a good start this weekend and try and notch up more wins this season. In a fixture anomaly, the Pioneers face the Rebels three times in the season – twice in Ballarat and once in Bendigo.