THE excitement is palpable at South Mildura, who are having their best start to an SFNL campaign since 2014.
The Bulldogs were locked in an entertaining arm wrestle with Mildura for much of the first half before their ability to run and spread opened the game up in the third term, leading to a 23-point victory.
Having not played finals since 2012 and also the longest active premiership drought of 23 years, the Bulldogs have shown plenty of spark early in the 2021 campaign, and with a new playing style and new-look team, they have put themselves into early contention for a ticket to the business end of the season.
Playing coach Ben Dalton said there was a lot of belief among the playing group.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things so far this year is that we’ve brought in the right people, and there’s definitely a different culture around the club, which is fantastic,” he said.
“There’s a lot of excitement with the new oval to look forward to next year as well. Wins are the best thing to help generate that atmosphere, and as long as we can keep doing that it will be great for us.”
Nathan Nolan played a a blistering intercepting game, racking up the Supercoach points by cutting off a number of Demons’ forays.
Forward Matthew Min was creative, kicking three goals and setting up a number more, while fellow recruits Matt Spencely, Ben Dalton and Haydn Kiel were also impressive.
Ruckman Tyler Curtis gave his side first use and skipper Chris Sellens was also important, particularly in the third quarter.
“I think that’s the best thing about the recruits that we’ve brought in, they’ve made the blokes who were already at the club better again,” Dalton said.
“They were already good footballers but now that they’ve got better footballers around them, it’s probably brought them up to another level again. Getting an extra 10 or 15 per cent out of your current list is massive for us.
“Nathan Nolan had a great game off the half-back line, he’s had a really good start to the year, Tyler Curtis was very dominant in the ruck. We also had some really good improvements out of our two younger players Mason Fitzgerald and Taj Stevens, who probably had their best games of the year. They’re now four games into their senior careers and starting to find their feet a bit more.”
Mildura were missing first-choice players Josh Martin, Josh Dean, Ben Christodoulou, Regan Cavallaro and Jack Bower, but started the better of the two sides.
Big man Anthony Matthews threatened to tear the game apart early, bagging four of his five goals in the first quarter, getting on the end of some wonderful disposal from the likes of Martin and Brad Thomas.
Demons’ skipper Martin, however, did not take to the field in the second half, nursing a suspected injured shoulder, and much of the side’s creativity was stifled by Bulldogs pressure.
Zac Nelson and Carmelo Lando tried to push the game back in the Dees’ direction, however the Bulldogs look a fit unit, not a surprise when co-coach Dalton runs an F45 gym, and were able to keep up the pace as the game wore on.
CURTIS IS ENJOYING THE HELP: A lot of pressure has been placed on the broad shoulders of Tyler Curtis in recent years, as the big man has always had the potential to tear up the competition. He hasn’t had a lot of help in the past, but now there is significant support, especially with Matthew Min taking control in the forward line. Curtis was strong in the ruck and able to play a kick behind the action all day.
YOUNG TALENT TIME: Both sides had a number of youngsters who showed impressive signs. South duo Mason Fitzgerald and Taj Stevens played arguably their best senior games while Ryan Brand kicked a goal with his first disposal, calmly finishing after initially dropping a mark. For the Dees, Cooper Allford has a future in the ruck, debutant Archer Olsen gave his all and Noah Hills provided plenty of dash from half-back.
South Mildura are at home to Ouyen United this week while Mildura clash with old rivals Imperials.