By Janakan Seemampillai
North Geelong Warriors are one win away from promotion back to the top tier of Victorian football for the first time since 2017.
The top of the table Warriors host fifth placed Bulleen Lions on Saturday August 6 at Elcho Park in the second last round of what has been an enthralling 2022 Victorian NPL2 season.
If other results go their way, the Warriors may already be guaranteed promotion by the time they kick-off, and they may even be playing for the league title.
The Warriors success this season has been nothing short of remarkable. With one of the lowest playing budgets in the league and with a plethora of local young talent, the Warriors under local coach Stuart Begg have taken all before them.
Skipper Ryan Opperman, who grew up in Geelong, believes team spirit and dedication has been the key to success in 2022.
“Success is gained through hard work, sacrifice and togetherness,” said Opperman, who has been at the Warriors for the past five seasons.
“One thing can’t happen without the other, and we know as a team we have to be strong collectively.
“We have strengthened our team this year and every member of the team has been required to step up at some point to support their team mates.
“We treat it like any other game, we know if we show up we can beat anybody in the league. We have to be confident in ourselves and the result will take care of itself.”
What has been even more remarkable about the Warriors’ season is they lost two of their star players from 2021 before a ball was kicked for 2022.
Last year’s best and fairest winner Luka Skoko won a contract with Croatian second division club Dugopolje, while another local talent in Nicholas Volarevic moved to Croatian third tier club Primorac Stobrec.
They also lost one of their most gifted players in Luka’s young brother Noa, who also moved to Croatia after Round 15.
At a time when COVID has wreaked havoc on the finances of most NPL clubs, the Warriors have gone about their business in the exact way the NPL system was set up for.
No less than 20 out of the 28 senior players they have used in 2022, have gone through their youth program at one stage.
Opperman is not one of the 20, but is a proud Geelong boy having gone through the Geelong Rangers system. He said it has been an honour to lead a local club to the brink of being promoted to the top tier of Victorian football.
“For me it’s been a pleasure over the last couple of years to wear the captain’s armband,” he said.
“The players, staff and supporters have been fantastic and play a major part in the club’s success, so to get this club back to where it belongs would be a dream.
“We’re fortunate to have such a strong leadership team who aim for high goals for the club and playing group. It would be a great way to reward the hard work the players, committee, sponsors and supporters have put in over the past couple years.
“We know we still have a lot to do to get promoted and although there’s only two games to go, it’s anyones to take.”
New recruit Caleb Mikulic has been one of the stars, scoring 16 goals so far in 2022. The club’s youth products in George Ellis and Lochie Mcgrath have netted 10 between them.
The Warriors were written off at the start of the year, with some pundits even suggesting they might get relegated. However, all roads lead to NPL1 for 2023, and a big home crowd on Saturday will be hoping for something to celebrate.