OAKLEIGH Chargers will head into season 2018 optimistic about their chances this year. After a preliminary final exit at the hands of Sandringham Dragons last season, the Chargers could consider themselves unlucky not to go all the way. They earned the minor premiership and were the best side with Geelong throughout the home and away season, but became the walking wounded when two of their best players – Toby Wooller and Jack Higgins – missed a final each, with Wooller’s absence in that preliminary final, telling. Higgins was also on one leg in his return from injury, having a role to play up forward, but was clearly not at his dominant best.
Along with Wooller and Higgins, Ed Richards was also drafted into the AFL, selected by the Western Bulldogs and thus changing his family’s rich heritage of donning the black and white stripes. In 2018, the depth is spread out across the Oakleigh line-up with Isaac Quaynor, a member of Collingwood’s Next Generation Academy, leading the charge. The running defender is sure to be in the draft conversation, as might midfielders Xavier O’Neill and Charlie Whitehead.
The Chargers have a mosquito fleet of mid/forwards including Lachlan Bugeja, Sam Harte and Daniel Scala who all impacted last season with plenty of game time. Joseph Ayton-Delaney impressed down back last season averaging almost three marks, three tackles and more than two rebounds for the year. Riley Collier-Dawkins has reportedly grown to 194cm and is a genuine key position player size despite playing through the midfield.
Unsurprisingly, Oakleigh also has a raft of talented bottom-agers led by Matt Rowell and Dylan Williams, both of whom are tracking as potential top 10 picks in 2019. With more sure to rise up this season, the Chargers will be quietly confident that they can enjoy a few years of success in the development area, if not the on-field area as well.
After an opening round loss against Sandringham Dragons, Oakleigh Chargers had three straight wins over Eastern Ranges, Calder Cannons and Bendigo Pioneers. It would be the start of a fantastic season, dropping just one game between round two and round 15 – in round five to the Geelong Falcons – as they went on a nine-game winning streak.
Their streak was eventually broken by a desperate Western Jets outfit clinging onto a finals hope later in the season, but the result hardly fazed the Chargers. They bounced back the next week with a low-scoring eight-point victory over Sandringham, before thumping Bendigo and Eastern to end the season. A whopping 70-point hiding of Northern came at a cost with captain Toby Wooller injured and Jack Higgins still sore from the previous week. It resulted in a narrow 10-point loss to Sandringham in the preliminary final and the minor premiers missed out on making the grand final.
Oakleigh Chargers open their season against Eastern Ranges on Saturday as part of a football triple header with two TAC Cup games and a VFL game at the venue. The Chargers then meet rivals Sandringham Dragons, before a date with the Northern Knights in round three. The Chargers’ first country road trip occurs in round four when they take on the Bendigo Pioneers, before back-to-back home games at Warrawee Park. The Chargers play four more games at their home ground, all consecutive matches between rounds 10-13.
The Chargers will be keen to be up near the top when the whips are cracking and I expect they are set for another top four finish. It should be a very competitive year in 2018, but the Chargers have some fantastic depth and it would be a surprise not to see them there at the business end of the season. If they do, they will hope to go all the way this time after having no shortage of success in the past decade.