Entering the season as one of the teams to beat, Launceston’s 2018 campaign proved to be something resembling a rollercoaster.
The Blues welcomed some emerging and established talent ahead of the season, with the likes of Mitch Thorp, Dylan Riley, Jobi Harper, Ethan Jackson, Blair Rubock and Giacomo Millucci just some of the names that came across to Windsor Park.
The Blues’ season was anything but predictable, with periods of scintilating, dominant football followed by flat patches that saw the team fighting to hold on to a top three spot.
Sitting in second spot with a 6-2 record after nine rounds, Launceston looked set to perhaps be cross-town rival North Launceston’s biggest threat for the TSL crown, however things started to falter for Sam Lonergan’s side, with the Blues enduring a five-match losing streak that included a shock loss to the Tigers on the road and a heartbreaking one-point loss to the Northern Bombers in round 15.
This form slump threatened to dash Launceston’s aspirations of registering a double chance, with the team falling to fifth, three wins behind second-placed Clarence and two wins behind the third-placed Magpies.
This round 15 loss under Friday night lights saw the Blues lead for most of the encounter and threaten a boilover, but the fast-finishing Bombers did just enough in the final term to kick four goals to one and snatch a thrilling one-point win.
Although heartbreaking, this narrow loss appeared to help the Blues turn the corner, with Launceston finishing the home and away season as one of the competition’s form outfits with five straight wins.
Lonergan showed his willingness to flick the magnets week to week as the Blues looked to find a winning formula throughout this period.
Dylan Riley, who spent the start of the season across half back, moved to full forward and made an immediate impact, allowing Mitch Thorp to play further afield and provide another marking target.
Riley was particularly impressive in this narrow loss, kicking four goals in a dominant display.
Rulla Kelly-Mansell and Jobi Harper both found new homes across half back and played instrumental roles in the form turnaround, while Tim Auckland rejoined the team after Tassie Mariners and SANFL experience to provide another tall option around the ground.
The return of Tassie Mariners captain and draft prospect Chayce Jones was also enormous, with Jones’ oozing class with his composure and deadly skill execution.
The Blues, had another dip in form and fortune, however, with an undermanned Magpie outfit mounting a seriously impressive come-from-behind win in the Qualifying Final at Blundstone Arena and an in-form Lauderdale handing out a 72-point hammering in the Semi Final to bring Launceston’s 2018 season to a grinding conclusion.
Injuries to star midfielder Jay Blackberry and coach Sam Lonergan proved costly, and while the season showed plenty of promise as to what this side can achieve, 2018 will go down as a missed opportunity for a talented outfit.
3rd (W: 11, L: 7 %: 132.71) – knocked out by Lauderdale in Semi Final
Mitch Thorp – 62 (Hudson Medalist)
Team of the Year Representatives: 3
- Jobi Harper (CHB)
- The 2013 South Launceston premiership star and Darrel Baldock medallist made his long-awaited return to senior footy in 2018 and starred as a utility for Sam Lonergan’s side. Harper started the season in the midfield, but made the move to full back and immediately looked at home. Rarely beaten and a terrific competitor.
- Dylan Riley (FP)
- One of the competition’s most talented players, Riley spent the back half of 2018 as a deep forward after playing key roles through the midfield and across half back earlier in the year. Finished with 16 goals.
- Mitch Thorp (FF)
- The competition’s premier forward was just that in his first season at Windsor Park, booting 62 goals. A smart footballer with a bag of tricks, Thorp was simply too big and too strong for many an opposition defender.
Best and Fairest:
Dylan Riley claimed the McAuley Medal as Launceston’s best and fairest, polling 89 votes – 20 clear of second-placed Brodie Palfreyman.
The Blues had a remarkably even season according to the umpires, with 17 players polling votes throughout the season.
Spearhead Mitch Thorp, ruckman Hamish Leedham, utility Jobi Harper and midfield gun Brodie Palfreyman all finished with eight votes each to lead the way, while Jake Hinds (6) and Jamieson House (5) also caught positive attention throughout the season.
RACT Insurance Player of the Year:
Remarkably, Launceston young gun and exciting draft prospect Chayce Jones proved to be the leading RACT Insurance Player of the Year vote-getter in 2018, polling 12 votes from just five regular season games. Jones’ final five games saw him pick up one, two, three, three and three votes respectively. Finishing second on the final leaderboard, who knows how many votes he would’ve polled if he had lined up for a whole season in navy blue.
Rulla Kelly-Mansell’s move to half back saw him pick up nine votes, the next best out of Windsor Park, while Brodie Palfreyman and Mitch Thorp polled seven each.
The Rising Star:
Chayce Jones is the obvious answer here, with the Tasmanian U18 captain and Allies representative taking the competition by storm in the final stretch of the season.
Emerging ruckman Tim Auckland also looks to be a player to keep your eyes on, with the tall gaining experience with Adelaide in the SANFL before returning to Windsor Park and helping the side’s flexibility, with Leedham spending more time forward of centre.
Goalsneak Jack Rushton also looks like an exciting prospect, having kicked 13 goals from 15 games and impressing with his defensive pressure.
Launceston played some scintillating football throughout the season and there was perhaps no greater example than the Blues’ 64-point win over Lauderdale in round 17 at Windsor Park.
The southern Bombers jumped out of the blocks with the opening five goals of the game, but from there it was all Launceston, with the Blues exercising a 95-point turnaround.
This remarkable turnaround was fuelled by a dominant performance off half back by Rulla Kelly-Mansell, the productive Chayce Jones and three goals each from Mitch Thorp and Jake Hinds.
With this win, the Blues mounted a case as being the form side of the competition after moving back into third place.
Bundled out of the finals in straight sets is not the result any top three side is after, with the Blues’ heavy defeat to Lauderdale in the Semi Final clearly the lowlight.
Launceston entered the finals in red-hot form, and after being overrun by an undermanned Glenorchy outfit in the Qualifying Final, were heavily fancied to fight back and book a Preliminary Final ticket.
This wasn’t to be the case, however, with an opening quarter arm wrestle broken apart by the Bombers in the second term, with Ed Stanley’s seven-goal haul fuelling a Bomber blitz and 72-point triumph.
The Blues looked flat throughout, with Lauderdale’s hardness coming to the fore.
2018 In Three Words: Up and down