By David Nagel
While the spotlight will be firmly focussed on the top-of-the-table clash between Tooradin-Dalmore and Inverloch-Kongwak this week…there are two games in West Gippsland football that will also have a bearing on the composition of this year’s finals series.
The first of those takes place at Western Park, where Warragul Industrials and Dalyston will battle it out for sixth place on the WGFNC ladder.
These two came from contrasting positions in 2022.
The Dusties were just a kick away from the grand final, while the Magpies walked away winners from just two of their 18 engagements.
But this season, their records are remarkably similar.
Neither has been able to crack it for a win against the top four, with the Magpies collecting the best win of the two against Cora Lynn in round five.
The Magpies will be full of lessons learnt in recent games against Phillip Island, Tooradin-Dalmore and Nar Nar Goon, while the Dusties have proven themselves roughly five-goals better than Garfield and Kilcunda-Bass over the last fortnight.
It’s just a matter of what form line will stack up best!
The Magpies really did miss the drive of Mitch Hallahan last week, and his availability will go a long way towards deciding the outcome.
Having Michael Marotta also sitting on the sidelines for the last three weeks has been a dampener for the Pies, who need every inch of top-end talent playing footy.
Blake Carew and Mason Storr have gone cold, after hot starts to the season in front of goals, and the Magpies will need that duo to stand tall if they’re to gain the four points on the weekend.
The Dusties just haven’t caught fire this season and look an unsettled bunch at the moment.
Coach Harmit Singh was forced to make four changes ahead of the game against Garfield a fortnight ago…and had six changes to the team against Kilcunda-Bass last week.
Only Adrian De Sando, Kane Oldham, Tom Commadeur, Todd Beck, Travis Ogden and Will Gibson have played every game this year.
But this is make or break for the Dusties, with their two games against Dalyston – over the next six weeks – likely to decide which of the two plays finals footy this year.
It’s the Dusties to win on their own deck…but only narrowly.
Cora Lynn has been playing some decent football in recent times, but the Cobras will finally look to convert effort into premiership points when they host Kilcunda-Bass on Saturday.
Coach Shaun Sparks never likes losing, but the Cobras have shown something over the last fortnight against Phillip Island and Inverloch-Kongwak.
On both occasions they were highly-competitive at times, but just lacked the combined skillset to get across the line.
Big Billy Thomas is playing some terrific football in the ruck, and his match-up with Dale Gawley will be a beauty.
It’s the Cobras to consolidate fifth position with a 23-point victory.
The other games this week look relatively one-sided.
Phillip Island will head home from Garfield with its ninth win for the season, while Nar Nar Goon will make it five wins on the trot at Korumburra Bena.
And Kooweerup will enter the bye on the back of a three-game winning streak with a comfortable victory over Bunyip.
The Demons head to Bunyip after confidence-boosting wins over Korumburra Bena and Garfield, while the Bulldogs are still searching for their first win.
The Demons are a realistic chance of winning six of their last eight games, so a little percentage booster wouldn’t go astray here.
Players like Bailey Galante, Fletcher McMillan, Matt Voss, Seth O’Hehir and Will Battams have backed up every week for the Demons, and their commitment will get their team across the line on the weekend.
They’ll be too classy and win by 46 points.
TIPS – Round 11
Bunyip v KOOWEERUP, CORA LYNN v Kilcunda Bass, Garfield v PHILLIP ISLAND, Korumburra Bena v NAR NAR GOON, Tooradin-Dalmore v INVERLOCH-KONGWAK, WARRAGUL INDUSTRIALS v Dalyston.
The cream of 2022’s crop will battle it out at Woori Yallock in a grand final rematch.
We all know the outcome – the Magpies did as Magpies do, adding yet another premiership cup to their burgeoning trophy cabinet at Kalora Park in torrid conditions at Gembrook.
While both sides looked a little different in 2022, Woori Yallock can take heart in knowing it was the only side to get the better of the Narre Warren on its way to the flag.
And with both sides sitting comfortably ensconced within the top three, we could be projecting to a finals match-up between the two again.
A win over Mt Evelyn got the Tigers back on the winners list after dropping their last two before the bye, while Narre Warren has won its last five.
Expect the Magpies to be tested for only the second time in 2023.
At Wandin, Gembrook Cockatoo will be hoping that the Bulldogs’ two weeks off has rid them of their rollicking momentum they found in the opening two months.
With its bye coming in round eight after the King’s Birthday long weekend, Wandin hasn’t taken the field since 3 June’s triumph over Upwey Tecoma.
Gembrook Cockatoo, by contrast, has dropped its last two, depsite being in the mix to win both late in the contest.
Up forward it should have the height to trouble the Wandin defenders, but speed across the ground is going to be an issue, as Pakenham exploited last week.
Should Wandin welcome Aaron Mullett back to the fold, it would be hard to see the winning streak come to a close.
One of Pakenham and Olinda Ferny Creek’s mid-season revivals will be put on hold, with the two set to meet at Toomuc Reserve.
Despite not winning a match until two weeks ago, just four points and percentage separates Olinda Ferny Creek, in seventh, and Upwey Tecoma in fourth.
Meanwhile, Monbulk will be looking to light a flame under its own campaign when it heads to Upwey Tecoma.
Berwick Springs hosting Healesville will have the attention of Outer East’s second division on Saturday.
A win for the Titans at home will maintain the two game buffer between themselves and the undefeated Emerald in top-spot.
While two games in arrears doesn’t sound desirable, its much better than three.
And with Emerald hosting Hallam, where they will expect to pick up four points, the Titans can’t afford to let any opportunities slip.
Both Healesville and Seville have the chance to join Berwick Springs on five wins and further glut the top half of the table.
Seville head to Belgrave looking to continue its winning form following a 15-point win over Healesville.
PAKENHAM v Olinda Ferny Creek, WANDIN v Gembrook Cockatoo, NARRE WARREN v Woori Yallock, UPWEY TECOMA v Monbulk.
Belgrave v SEVILLE, EMERALD v Hallam, BERWICK SPRINGS v Healesville.
SOUTHERN FOOTBALL NETBALL LEAGUE
Dingley’s clash with Cheltenham shapes as the match up to watch this week.
Both teams enter the contest on the back of eight game winning streaks.
Dingley’s system has stacked up against everyone since succumbing to a 49-point first round loss to the Rosellas.
Cheltenham, meanwhile, were outclassed in the Good Friday grand final rematch against Cranbourne but have repeatedly shown they’re well around the mark.
Almost certainly, these two clubs will square off in finals and Saturday presents the last opportunity for Dingley to have some sort of mental edge ahead of that likely match-up.
They just got the edge on Cranbourne earlier this year, but it required big guns Lucas Walmsley, Lachie Lamble, Nathan Freeman and Lochie Benton to all fire.
Those four will all enter high on confidence after each played a key role against Bentleigh last weekend.
Freeman racked up 52 touches, Benton played with the flair synonymous with Dingley, and Lamble’s leg-speed will be crucial to penetrate Cheltenham’s defence and hit targets inside 50.
The other component to factor in is that Dingley will be without a few players who they have now lost to overseas trips, most notably defender Alex Windhager.
It hasn’t taken long for opposition clubs to note him down as an eminent key defender in the competition, as he’s been given some big match-ups and generally impressed in one-on-one battles.
It leaves the question of who is going to play on big star forward Josh Fox.
He has 32 goals for the season and is averaging four a game since round three.
Even with Cheltenham getting off the leash the last time these two sides played each other, he was still relatively contained with three goals
Kristen Feehan would be the obvious choice, but he’s at his best when he’s flying, intercepting and setting up play behind the footy.
On paper you’d back the Dingoes inside, but the Cheltenham midfield is well coached and stable.
Without discounting the threat of any club, there is a clear gulf between the top three and the rest, with this clash is Dingley’s second-last opportunity against a premiership fancy until finals.
This one’s a genuine flip of the coin and both clubs have no doubt done their homework but expect this game to be picked apart.
Division One: DINGLEY v Cheltenham, CRANBOURNE v Chelsea Heights, St Paul’s McKinnon v BENTLEIGH, PORT MELBOURNE v St Kilda City, SPRINGVALE DISTRICTS v Mordialloc
Division Two: DOVETON DOVES v East Malvern, Highett v KEYSBOROUGH, HAMPTON PARK v Black Rock, SKYE v Caulfield, EAST BRIGHTON v Murrumbeena