Sport

Top six is Saints’ aim

By Meg Saultry

As it is officially halfway through the 2019 GV league season, with Round 9 wrapping up on the weekend, it’s time to look back at the Benalla Saints’ first half of the season.

Benalla opened its campaign strongly this year, with consecutive wins over Euroa (four points), Shepp Swans (14) and Seymour (27), before dropping its Round 4 match by 18 points against Mansfield on home soil.

The Saints then fell to 3-2 with a another loss to Echuca in Round 5, with the Bombers decimating the Saints to the tune of 67 points.

The Benalla Saints rebounded strongly though, beating last year’s premier Shepparton by 21 points at Benalla Showgrounds in Round 6, which they followed up with a dominant 65-point victory over Rochester a week later.

However, in the past fortnight, the Saints have failed to perform at their best against two of the league’s top opposition, losing by eight points to the undefeated Kyabram and by 15 points against Tatura on Saturday.

With the Saints failing to get one over any of the top three teams — Kyabram, Echuca and Tatura — their biggest challenge for the remainder of the season is whether they can match it with the upper echelon of the GV league, especially in their Round 16 rematch against Echuca.

Speaking to senior coach James Martiniello at the midway point of the season, the playing coach said his squad would need to stay in the contest longer if it was to have a chance against the league’s strongest competition.

‘‘We need to keep our intensity for longer, reclaim the footy, and work to get possession,’’ Martiniello said.

‘‘We can’t turn it over. If you do that, good opposition will make you play.’’

Sitting in sixth place on the ladder, with a 5-4 ledger to start the season, Martiniello said he was happy with how the season was progressing so far.

‘‘It’s nice to be in front of the ledger,’’ he said.

‘‘There were one or two games we would have liked to pinch.

‘‘But it’s a really even competition this year, we’re happy at 5-4 and we’ll really push on in the second half to consolidate a top-six finish.

‘‘We’ll keep chugging away. We’re confident we have the playing group.’’

Several players who have stood out so far this season have been duo Brody Webster and Nick Warnock, who both represented the GV league in a recent interleague match, with Webster dominating down forward for the Saints with 23 goals this season and Warnock impressing after being swung back into defence in recent weeks.

Midfield duo Will Martiniello and Chris Welsh have been a formidable combination in the first half of the season, and the Saints will be desperate to make sure these two line up for as many matches as possible with both suffering injury concerns in recent weeks.

But the duo continues to be amply supported by Cody Crawford and David Mennen who have also impressed in the first half of the season.

James Martiniello should make his way back into the side in coming weeks, after missing a block of games with a hamstring injury, Riley Moran’s run off half-back continues to be crucial to the side, while skipper Jordan Wolff remains a presence in the forward line but was easily held against Tatura at the weekend and will want to stamp his authority on the opposition in coming games.

The Saints have a relatively easier next four rounds of football, which consists of two away games against Mooroopna (12th) and Shepp United (10th), before the club returns to the Benalla Showgrounds for matches against Euroa (ninth) and Shepparton Swans (11th).

If Benalla can stay sharp and at its most dangerous, it is conceivable to see the Saints travelling at 9-4 after 13 rounds, which sets them nicely on course to accomplish Martiniello’s goal of consolidating a finals berth later this year.