Tigers second after three straight wins

Month on the sidelines: Shaun Atley will spend a month overseas in the coming weeks — Rochester coach Steve Stroobants is hoping that includes the Goulburn Valley league general bye on May 28. Atley was again a prime mover in the Tigers’ third successive win. Photo by 2022
Stepping up: Ruckman Andy Henderson was best on ground in the Tigers’ 130-point win against Benalla. He took on the main ruck role in the absence of Dan Russell. Photos: Bruce Povey. Photo by Bruce Povey

Rochester coach Steve Stroobants is not getting ahead of himself, in spite of his team sitting second on the Goulburn Valley league’s senior football ladder.

With winnable games in the next two weeks, the Tigers could have a 6-1 win-loss record after the first two months of football, with Stroobants saying it was important to win these early games given the tough draw ahead.

He returned on the weekend from a week off with a rib injury to kick two goals in his side’s 130-point demolition of bottom team Benalla.

Rochester kicked 21.18 — Stroobants and key forward Mitch Cricelli responsible for eight of those minor scores — and kept Benalla scoreless in the second and third quarters as the Saints managed just 2.2 for the afternoon.

With a decision on the Echuca Football Netball Club appeal — in relation to its loss of premiership points from the round one match with Rochester — due tonight, the Tigers will have a better idea of their ranking once a final decision is made.

If Echuca regains the four premiership points, the Tigers will drop to a 3-2 win-loss record. Whatever happens, they will go into rounds six and seven full of confidence, favourites to defeat Shepparton Swans (ninth) and Shepparton Bears (seventh).

Rochester’s start to the year has been in two distinct parts — rounds one and two defeats to Echuca and Kyabram (by 50-plus points on both occasions) — then 132-point, 42-point and 130-point wins against Tatura, Shepp United and Benalla.

“We are not getting too far ahead of ourselves,” Stroobants said.

“While we are getting the job done at the moment, the Echuca challenge could change a few things.”

Rochester has an enormous six weeks after the general bye, with matches against the other five teams in the top six: Kyabram, Echuca, Euroa, Mooroopna and Mansfield.

“We need to win a few of those. We will sit down before the interleague bye and look a little bit further forward than we usually do,” Stroobants said.

The general bye on May 28 is the week before Rochester’s second meeting with Echuca.

Interleague coach Paul Newman is expected to announce his squad some time this week, which will include four or five Rochester players.

Stroobants, himself a regular Goulburn Valley league representative, said the availability of Shaun Atley for interleague duties was not yet known.

“I know he is heading overseas for a month at some stage; I am hoping that includes the bye week,” he said.

Stroobants (two goals), Mitch Cricelli (four), defender cum forward Nathan Kay (three) and Izaac Johnson (three) kicked more than half of the Tigers’ goals.

Winger Jordan Harper helped himself to three majors, and was again among the Tigers’ best contributors.

Sean Williams, who was promoted from the reserves after consistent goalkicking weeks, also kicked two goals.

Stroobants said the team was missing Doug Wren, who is out for the sesaon with an ACL injury, Nathan Marone (10 to 12 weeks with a PCL he suffered in the first quarter of the United game), Nathan McCarty (hamstring tightness) and ruckman Dan Russell, who missed with a wedding on the weekend.

In Russell’s rare absence, Andy Henderson was handed the first ruck duties and finished among Rochester’s best players.

“He hasn’t really rucked all day at senior level, despite having played 30 or 40 senior games,” Stroobants said.

“This was the first time he had been the number one ruckman.”

Russell has been outstanding for the Tigers this year.

Nathan Kay, normally a defender, has taken to a new role in attack and has six goals from the past three weeks.

The absence of Shaun Atley in the coming weeks will be a test for the Tigers, his class at stoppages netting him 34 possessions on the weekend.

He was tagged on the weekend, but it did not affect his output.

Stroobants said he was particularly happy with how the forward line had operated.

He, Cricelli and Johnson all hit the scoreboard, and the Tigers have kicked 61 goals in the past three weeks.

“We are all different types of players. Mitch is the big marking player, I mark more than I crumb and Izaac is a real small forward,” Stroobants said.

“He does all the small-forward things — tackles, chases, crumbs — and his conversion is great.”