A dramatic season ended in typically dramatic fashion for the Wolves when coach Chris Ayton forfeited Tolland’s preliminary final against Henwood Park at half-time. It was 0-0 at the break when Ayton realised midfielder Bruno Andre (a late inclusion after a successful appeal) had been left off the team sheet. He said it would certainly result in the Wolves’ disqualification so the coach made the call for his team not to return and play out the game, against the wishes of club president Maurie Hogan. Ayton couldn’t see the point in risking injury to players.

It capped a controversial season, with the Wolves also in strife after playing just seven men in a game in the regular season. Tolland was later found guilty of misconduct and issued an $1100 penalty in fines and fees, as well as a suspended sentence. Ayton wasn’t charged by Football Wagga, but departed as Wolves coach. Henwood Park went on to win the Pascoe Cup, beating Lake Albert in a penalty shootout after scores were deadlocked at 4-all after extra time. 

The story of transgender player Holly Conroy playing in the Football Wagga women’s competition generated plenty of interest. Conroy defended her right to play, pointing out she was new to soccer and the game was more about skill than strength. Conroy said the support of family and friends, including her Wagga United teammates, was extremely important, and said she hadn’t personally encountered any hostility. Playing sport, she said, was also a big help to her mental wellbeing. 

Fellow transgender woman, Wagga Sporting Hall of Famer Kirsti Miller, threw her support behind Conroy and Wagga United, in a follow-up story which was also extremely popular online. Miller, previously Warren Miller, said she was heartened to hear of the support for Conroy, reiterating the point that isolating people from sport isn’t an answer. Both women don’t believe they had a physical advantage after the significant transformation to their bodies since transition. 

Leeton-Whitton’s Toby Conroy was named in the centre in The Daily Advertiser’s Riverina League Team of the Year. The team was announced on the eve of the grand final, which the Crows went on to win, after which Conroy announced his retirement. He was one of three Crows players in the team of the year. Collingullie-Glenfield Park dominated with six players, but came up short against the Crows on grand final day at Narrandera Sportsground. Earlier in the year, Guy Orton’s announcement of the Riverina rep squad generated almost as much interest.  

The Farrer League and Group Nine Teams of the Year were also well-read, as was the announcement of the Farrer League rep squad. Marrar (five players), as well as Temora and EWK (four) were prominent in the Farrer League Team of the Year.

Likewise Group Nine premiers South City (six players) and runners-up Gundagai (five, including four backs) featured heavily in the Group Nine Team of the Year. 

The beginnings of revival of a former Riverina League powerhouse was one of the more heart-warming stories, and the Bulldogs’ drought-breaking victory in round one was as popular online as the result was at Maher Oval. Under new coach Mitch Sykes (who wasn’t playing due to injury) Turvey Park toughed out a 41-point win against Narrandera on April 22.

It was their first victory since July 26, 2014, bringing to an end a 36-game losing streak. Matt Bailey (who later earned a spot in the DA’s Riverina League Team of the Year) was impressive in defence while returning players Josh Ashcroft, Bryce McPherson and Truman Carroll all played big roles. Sykes declared it “sensational” for the Turvey faithful. By year’s end Turvey had four wins on the board. Sykes stepped down as coach and has since elected to go back to Lockhart. Carroll has taken the reins for 2018 and will be hoping to see similar scenes of joy when their season begins at home to Coolamon on April 21. 

In Wagga in April for the National Down The Line Championships, Olympic gold medallist Russell Mark spoke passionately and at length with The Daily Advertiser about his love for the sport. And his views appeared to resonate, with the story extremely popular online. 

The 1996 Atlanta Double Trap champion worries that the sport can be unfairly maligned when debate about gun laws is confused with an Olympic sport he believes is strong on diversity and availability. Pointing out competitors in wheelchairs, elderly women, and young boys competing at the national ground in Wagga.  

With Wagga regularly benefitting from major shooting events, Mark pointed out the sport’s value to the economy, and applauded the decision to bring the 2018 World Down The Line Championships to the city. The annual national championships in Wagga were described as the sport’s breeding ground and Mark believes shooting is set to enjoy another golden era.

Former Coleambally coach Josh Hamilton was virtually banned for life in August after  a three-week suspension for head-butting. Hamilton was cited on video evidence by  Charles Sturt University. His guilty plea took his career record to 17 games, one more than the 16-week threshold which triggers deregistration. Technically, the ruckman will serve the ban then be deregistered early this season. Appeals are allowed after 12 months if a player demonstrates exceptional circumstances for rehabilitation.

Players weren’t the only ones creating headlines. A heated exchange between two umpires at a Riverina League game at Coolamon sparked an investigation, and the Daily Advertiser’s story was widely read. Players and spectators were stunned when central umpire Rob Apted and goal umpire Denis Rudd exchanged words and then had to be separated. Both were later issued warnings over the incident, and apologised. 

Group Nine club Tumut unearthed a gun recruit when former Gold Coast Titans under 20s player, Dan Kilian, made a big impression early in the season. However, in May  Blues coach Jarrad Teka admitted he wasn’t sure when the Queensland-based forward would be back, as he was awaiting sentencing over drugs charges. In August, after he was given a suspended sentence, Kilian was cleared to return for the Blues’ final campaign. His wasn’t the only court story to capture the attention of readers.

Young Cherrypickers sacked playmaker Ray Talimalie after police commenced investigations into an incident on the October long weekend. The halfback is facing serious assault charges and his case is before the courts.

But the Group Nine news ended on a high with Junee’s coaching coup also a big hit with our online audience. The Diesels’ shock announcement that they’d signed former Queensland Origin player Dane Nielsen as coach for 2018 generated the right type of headlines. 

The Bombers were on their way towards a drought-breaking flag when they took on Coleambally at Langtry Oval in July. On that day, they secured another four points, but football was put in perspective as the club rallied for ‘Reidy Round’. They wore jumpers emblazoned with the image of Graeme Reid, and supported the family of their late teammate in raising awareness of mental health. Reid’s brother Zach Walgers (pictured with Marrar captain Josh Hagar) presented the players with their jumpers which were later auctioned off, raising a staggering $31,700 for ‘Good Talk’, the charity set up in Reid’s honour to raise money for research into bipolar disorder.

It was one of the club’s most important days of the year and one of our most popular stories, closely followed by the Bombers’ heart-stopping grand final victory two months later. It was the town’s first flag since 1996, and Reid was never far from the minds of his former teammates in the build-up and in the premiership celebrations. 

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