By Jonty Ralphsmith
Cheltenham have set the benchmark for the Southern Football Netball League (SFNL) Division 1 competition in 2023.
After a lethargic start to the season against Cranbourne on Good Friday when the Rosellas were rolled by 34 points, the Rosellas went undefeated.
In soggy conditions at Jack Barker Oval, Cheltenham won the return clash between the teams by 17 points, thanks in large part to a late 15-minute lapse by the Eagles.
Cranbourne avenged that with a fast finish in the second semi final, but will be well aware of the following players, who will hope to cause the Eagles’ coaches headaches.
Five players Cranbourne need to stop:
Dylan Weickhardt: The former VFL player edged out Cranbourne midfielder Zak Roscoe for the league best and fairest. The star midfielder will take it up to Cranbourne, having been named in the coaches’ best nine times in 2023, and finishing the season with three consecutive best-on-grounds according to the umpires.
Josh Fox: Skipper Brandon Osborne will go to Fox. The league leading goal kicker has 76 for the season, but only five in three games against Cranbourne, Osborne even able to nullify him reasonably well in his return game from injury in round 13.
Luke Verma: A tough midfielder who wins it in the clinches and provides defensive presence. One who Roscoe, Jarryd Barker and co. will hope they can bust through. Wasn’t a Rosella in 2022 but has come in and shored up their midfield stocks.
Finn Ryan: Glenn Osborne was lauded for the role he played on Richmond VFL-listed Austin Johnson in last year’s decider and Ryan is at a similar stage of his career. Has different weapons to Johnson, but is also young and could have some state league footy ahead of him, having played two games at Frankston in 2023. Is a classy forward with 34 goals from 18 SFNL games this season.
Alec McComb: The star playmaker who needs to be stopped. Is capable of changing the course of the game with a burst of play. Cranbourne will back its system to keep him on the leash, Cheltenham’s form, in part, built off his efficiency, athleticism and goal scoring.