Melton South has announced its first signing for next year’s Ballarat Football League season, with star VFL defender Ryan Pendlebury joining the club.

Pendlebury, who played with Collingwood’s VFL side before joining Port Melbourne in 2018, has joined the Panthers as a playing assistant coach.

Panthers coach Heath Pritchard said they were thrilled to sign Pendlebury, the younger brother of Collingwood captain Scott Pendlebury.

Ryan played 19 games with Port Melbourne this year.

“He will be a playing assistant coach,” Pritchard said.

“He’s a centre half back and obviously has a lot of VFL experience. He should be good for us and bring in a lot of experience.

“We’re happy to get someone of the high calibre of Ryan.”

Pritchard said the fact that Pendlebury was from the country meant that he understood the culture of a country club.

Pritchard had previously worked with Pendlebury when he was a runner at Port Melbourne and it was that and his connection with Port Melbourne teammate Shannen Lange which helped get him across the line.

Lange, from Sale like Pendlebury, had Melton South as his home club last season.

“He pushed him to come this way and join us”

Pritchard said Pendlebury had always wanted to get into coaching and was looking forward to the challenge.

He will be a playing back line coach as part of an extended coaching group, both playing and non-playing.

Pendlebury is the only signing so far for the Panthers, with Pritchard saying they were still speaking to a number of players.

He said they were looking at targeting particular players to fill certain voids.

One player they are talking to is Lange, who has retired from VFL football and looking to play at a local level.

“At this stage he is still at our club [having been his home club last season] and going forward we are hopeful that he picks us,” Pritchard said.

The Panthers have lost one player so far, with midfielder Lachie Watkins joining cross-town rivals Melton.

Pritchard said it was disappointing to lose someone who had played all their football at the club.

Paul Bower, who is currently back in Western Australia, is still to decide his playing future.