By Mitch Terpstra
Will the underdogs from last season become genuine title contenders in 2019? We take a look at how the Canberra Demons are shaping up ahead of the season.
The Demons were just one win away from a dream Grand Final appearance after recording the best home and away record in their short history. A 10 win and eight loss season, coming off the back of a mid-season eight-game winning streak that saw them defeat the likes of Aspley and Sydney University. The Demons place sixth heading in to a maiden finals campaign. An Elimination Final win against Sydney University was a highlight of not only 2018, but their short history in the competition. The Demons were eventually beaten by a dominant Sydney in their Preliminary Final clash. Mitch Maguire was the main aggressor in his side’s rise of the ladder in 2018. In his second NEAFL season, Maguire was able to capture the NEAFL Rising Star Award, a club best-and-fairest as well as polling in fourth for the NEAFL MVP.
WHAT’S NEW IN 2019?
Canberra has made a number of changes to its list and has lost some experience over the summer period, including the likes of 100-gamer Nick Collins, ruckman Cameron Milne, leading goalkicker Ben Fulford, rising talent Reed Stevens and emerging forward Jacob Turner. On the plus side, the Demons have signed a number of new players, including the return of NEAFL representative Josh Bennett, basketball convert Luke Jamieson, Mulrooney medallist Kel Evans, and former GIANTS Academy members Rhys Pollock, Riley Budd and Guy Richardson.
The Canberra Demons should be confident heading into their first month of football, with transitioning from underdogs to genuine premiership contenders the theme of the new season. Their first two rounds of football come against two non-finals teams from 2018 in Gold Coast and Redland.
The first big test for this young Demons side will be against the reigning premier Southport in Round 3. In their two meetings last year, the Demons lost both matches by 62 and 103 points. If the Demons want to take it to the defending premiers they will need to step up their contested possessions, losing the count -69 combined from both meetings last year.
Canberra’s Round 4 match up will be important towards setting up another season of finals football. Sydney University took out two of the three home and away meetings between the two sides last year, with Canberra winning coming out on top in the Elimination Final. This match will be crucial for both teams aspiring to make another deep finals series.
2019 WILL BE A HIT IF…
It almost goes without saying that Canberra needs the likes of Maguire, captain Aaron Bruce, ball magnet Alex Smout, veteran Sam Martyn and NEAFL Team of the Year member Mitch Hardie to continue on from their stellar 2018 season if the Demons are to feature in finals for a second consecutive year. However, the club will need its next generation of stars to take steps in their development if the Demons want to be serious contenders. Rising Star nominees Alex Paech, Angus Baker, Jarrod Osborne and Riley Budd, plus Jack Powell, Tom Highmore and Rhys Pollock all have immense talent to make a leap to the next level. If playing-coach Kade Klemke can rally his young side to develop and improve his side’s contested footy and clearances, the Demons will be a hard team to beat in 2019.
2019 WILL BE A MISS IF…
Klemke will want the men from Canberra to have a keen focus on putting out consistent performances throughout the entirety of the 2019 season. Eight of Canberra’s 10 wins during the home and away season came from a streak of mid-season form. To avoid falling short of the top prize this year, Canberra will not only need to get their hands first to the footy by finding a dominant ruckman to improve their hit outs and clearance numbers, but consistency will be the buzz word coming from the nation’s capital this year.
You can’t go past Maguire, who will play another big role in Canberra’s side after a breakout season to remember in 2018. Hardie thoroughly deserved his place in the Team of the Year in 2018 and is primed for another big season, and young defender Highmore is a genuine star. After an impressive pre-season, watch for midfielder Lucas Meline – who’s packed on 10kgs in the off-season – to step up and take the reins of the Demons midfield alongside Maguire. Up forward, captain and two-time leading goalkicker Bruce will remain a cornerstone to Canberra’s success.
You could throw a blanket over Canberra’s young talent looking to make their mark in 2019, which is what makes this side so exciting to watch. But if there is one to keep your eye on, it just might be Angus Baker. In his first season back from a torn ACL last year, Baker proved a genuine match winner on several occasions and was invited to train with Sydney in the lead up to the AFL Draft. Still eligible for the NEAFL Rising Star Award, if Baker can get going in 2019, the sky is the limit for this athletic prospect.
TO KICK THINGS OFF…
Round 1 – April 6
Canberra Demons v Gold Coast SUNS at Alan Ray Oval, 12pm