|With an enforced weekend off from sport due to the statewide lockdown, the Wimmera Hockey Associaton teams have the opportunity to assess where they stand after playing each opponent once and can look forward to what they need to do to remain in the race for the finals.
With no hockey played in the Wimmera last year, the focus for the 2021 seaosn is to revive the competition with particular emphasis on providing the opportunity for the younger members to get back into the sport.
If the restrictions allow, hockey will resume on Saturday with Round Seven as per the published 2021 fixture, to be played at Anzac Park in Warracknabeal. The season began with two fewer teams than 2019, with the Warrack Women and Dimboola’s Under 16 team, the Kangaroos, not having enough players to field teams.
A decision will be made in due course as to the fate of round six that was postponed last weekend.
Yanac came into this seaosn as reigning premiers in all three divisions, having won their respective grand finals in 2019, after becoming the first club to win three titles in the same seaosn for the first time in 2018.
With all three again undefeated and on the top of the ladders after five rounds of the 2021 season, it is an ominous sign for the rest of the competition that they are on track to do it again, for a third consecutive season.
It is difficult to tip against the undefeated Tigers, who have accounted for all opponents so far this season, and it is hard to single out a serious contender for their title.
Despite their relative positions on the ladder, the remaining five teams are evenly matched. They all feature several key players to their chances of winning but all lack depth in their squads, with some results coming down to the players each team can get on the field for any given game.
The second-placed Warrack Hoops are missing five players from their 2019 grand final team that narrowly went down to the Tigers in extra time, but their younger players are stepping up to fill these positions, and except for a bad day against the Tigers in round three, are showing that they remain capable of spending the season in the top half of the ladder.
The Dimboola Burras are a formidable combination when they have their best players available but don’t have the depth to fill the gaps when they are unavailable. However, after a slow start, they have found some form in recent weeks and are now challenging for second place on the ladder.
Having struggled through most of the last decade and rarely appearing in the finals, things are coming together for the Nhill Rangers, but like the Burras, a lack of replacement players may affect their chances later in the year.
The two teams currently outside the top four, the Kaniva Cobras and Horsham Hurricanes are also still well in the mix for finals.
The Kaniva team has plenty of players to pick from, which may prove to be an advantage later in the season, and despite being yet to win a game, the Hurricanes are the only team to score more than one goal against the Tigers, which highlights their potential against closer to them on the ladder.
Although the undefeated Yanac leads the Women’s competition, they are not as far ahead as their counterparts in the Open competition.
After many seasons struggling in the lower half of the ladder, the Kaniva Women have found some form this season and look the most likely to challenge Yanac, controlling much of the play in their round two encounter only to lose by one goal.
Nhill Thunderbirds is another team that could cause an upset if they can get their best team on the field consistently, having also made Yanac earn their two goal victory when they met in round four.
The Horsham Jets have suffered a couple of injuries to key players early this season, which is testing the depth of their squad, but with their return, they remain a contender.
The combined Dimboola and Warracknabeal team has struggled early, but the more they play together, the more they are gelling as a team, and they have the resources to win a game or two this season.
Form from year to year in the Under 16 competition can be variable, as top age players move up to the senior divisions, leaving room for much younger and less experienced players to take their place.
After the disruption of last year, the focus in 2021 is to create the opportunity for junior players to get back on the field and enjoy sport, with the on-field results of secondary importance.
The Yanac Warriors are yet to lose a game, but they have not yet played the full Horsham Bombers team, which at full strength could be a match for the reigning premiers.
The Bombers have been nurturing a talented group of young players over recent seasons, and they are now finding some form and have positioned themselves as the best challenger to the Warriors’ dominance.
The Nhill Leopards and Warrack Revengers currently round out the top four, and there is not much separating them. Although they appear to be a little behind the top two, both are capable of causing an upset or two as the season progresses.
The Kaniva Raiders have struggled so far this season and are at the risk of falling out of touch with the leaders, but their players are gaining valuable experience that will hold them in good stead in the coming seasons.
The training of match officials was another task that was put on hold last year, but it was announced last week that the Wimmera Hockey Association was successful in their application for a grant of $4,900 through the Victorian Government’s Sporting Club Grants Program to undertake umpire and coach training.
Part of this grant will go towards two umpire sessions that have been arranged for this seaosn that will see several highly qualified umpires visit the Wimmera and train and assess local officials.