As premiers Wollongong Lions and Kiama meet in a tantalising grand final rematch, across town Lee Murray is chipping away at plans for the Bulldogs to bridge the gap.
The three clubs have dominated the recent AFL South Coast landscape, with the Lions winning the past two flags, the Dogs the previous four and Kiama lifting the shield in 2009 and 2011.
After bowing out with a 26-point preliminary final loss to the Lions last year, Murray has moved to restructure the forward line and boost the Bulldogs goalscoring firepower.
And the early signs are encouraging, piling on 17 goals and 36 scoring shots, in a 118-point demolition of Bomaderry to start the season.
Murray believes it will only be once the competition splits into the new three-tier format – where the top six teams will be separated into one group to chase premiership glory – that the Bulldogs will know if they’re up to toppling the Lions and the Power.
“We played pretty well last week, but it’s early days,” he said. “We’ve lost a few top guys and picked up some really good young talent as well, so we’ve changed how we play, but only to a degree.
“We’ve always had the midfield, half-forward, small forward players with plenty of run, but it’s good to be able to add some bigger bodies this year, which will hopefully mean we can match the likes of the Lions and Kiama.
“It will be a while before we really know.”
The new spearhead of the forward line restructure, Jayden Witt booted five goals against the Tigers, with James Morsanuto and Tim Smith playing valuable support roles.
“Jayden hasn’t played a lot of footy, just a bit of junior footy, but he’s definitely got some ability,” he said.
“He’s got great hands, but we’re a work in progress up forward.”
The Dogs meet Figtree at Keira Oval on Saturday, as the Lions and Kiama return to North Dalton Park, where the Wollongong club produced a dramatic last-quarter surge to win the premiership in September.
Kiama had 40 scoring shots in a 109-point win over Northern Districts, while the Lions opened with a 51-point victory over Figtree, who will be fighting for a spot in the top tier when the competition is split.
AFL SOUTH COAST
WOLLONGONG BULLDOGS v FIGTREE at Keira Oval, PORT KEMBLA v NORTHERN DISTRICTS at Kully Bay Oval, SHELLHARBOUR v BOMADERRY at Myimbarr Oval, WOLLONGONG LIONS v KIAMA at North Dalton Park, NOWRA-ALBATROSS bye.