The stage is set in Northern Football Netball League’s Division 1, with Round 5 offering five important matches ahead of the break for representative football.
It’s quite the opposite at the foot of the table, where the bottom-four sides have managed just one win – making this weekend a potential last-chance saloon for those looking to mount a case for a finals place later in the season.
To emphasise the gulf between the competition’s elite and the stragglers, a two-game and percentage gap could emerge between the top-five and the remaining pack should the favourites win each of this weekend’s games.
Is Round 5 the round that changes the course of the season? Or will the early-season contenders continue on their merry way?
Two of the early season flag fancies face off in a Round 5 blockbuster when Northcote Park hosts North Heidelberg at Bill Lawry Oval.
The second-placed Cougars remain undefeated throughout the opening four rounds and are enjoying their best start to a campaign this decade.
Last week’s win at Lower Plenty looked set to be a huge one, with the Cougars booting 13 goals in the opening half to take a 59-point lead into the main break. However, the scoring dried up in the second half and the visitors had to be content with a 51-point triumph.
Northcote Park boasts the best spine in the competition, with Jackson Starcevich and Ash Close firing in attack; Kyle Galloway making an immediate impact in the ruck; the unheralded Damian Galofaro shoring up the defence after missing the 2018 season; while skipper Paul Dirago can get the job done wherever required.
This week’s match-up pits two contrasting styles against one another. The Cougars will undoubtably have a distinct height advantage, while North Heidelberg builds its game around its outstanding midfield and sharp delivery into its small and lively forward line.
The Bulldogs’ 44-point triumph over Heidelberg last week showed that size doesn’t matter, with their low and direct ball movement countering their opponent’s height advantage.
Shane Harvey’s masterclass also played a large part, with the star forward booting seven goals – including the first four majors of the game. His volley from the left forward pocket in the opening quarter would likely be the early leader in the goal of the year.
Northcote Park appears set to be without Ash Close for the first time this season. Close’s absence undoubtably leaves a big void – however, it also allows the Cougars to tinker with their set-up with runs already on the board.
The midfield battle looks a beauty, with both clubs’ possessing plenty of A-grade talent through the middle of the park, with the likes of the Perry brothers, Svarc and Davies going up against Brent Harvey, Tardio, McDonald and Hogan – who are all in ripping form this year.
Should the elite players from each club cancel one another out, could the game be won by the side whose rotating midfielders have the bigger impact?
Heidelberg and Montmorency continue their long-standing rivalry when they meet at Warringal Park.
Heidelberg will be looking to atone after last week producing its worst performance of the season, while Montmorency knows a win is essential to keep in touch with the top-five ahead of next week’s bye.
Heidelberg will enter as favourite, given its best has been as good as any in the competition this year – particularly when playing at Warringal Park, where the Tigers have had the result in the bag by half time in each of their previous two home games.
They have booted a combined total of 135 points in the first half of their two matches at Warringal Park, and conceded just 31. They led Hurstbridge by 53 points at the main break in Round 2, before keeping Macleod to just 1.2 (8) in the opening half on Anzac Day.
The absence of Chaz Sargeant, Will Knight and Will Goss was certainly felt during last week’s loss at North Heidelberg, however there will also be a host of players who will know they can lift on last week’s output.
Montmorency has an opportunity to claim a big scalp and a win this week would move it within percentage of the top-five. Conversely, a loss could leave the Magpies two wins outside and in no-man’s land.
The Magpies enter this week’s game in winning form after overcoming Hurstbridge at Ben Frilay Oval in Round 4. The game was evenly poised at three-quarter time, before the Magpies piled on four goals in the last term to win by 17 points, albeit with 12 more scoring shots.
Jai Robinson continues to deliver in spades, with the off-season signing named in his side’s best players in each of his four games since joining from Whittlesea. Skipper Jesse Donaldson is also back to his best after injury issues and enters this week’s game as one of the form players of the competition.
Given both its victories in 2019 have come against sides yet to record a win, Montmorency needs to claim a major scalp to confirm its legitimacy as a finals contender and wouldn’t the Magpies love nothing more than to beat Heidelberg at Warringal Park to make that statement.
Yulong Reserve has been host to some great recent encounters between Bundoora and Macleod and an intriguing game awaits this weekend.
Bundoora is looking to keep its momentum building after notching three-consecutive wins but will be wary of an opponent that has its back to the wall as it hopes to keep its 2019 campaign alive.
Of the five sides currently sitting inside the top half of the table, Bundoora is the one which is sneaking under the guard the most. The Bulls are building wins with a minimum of fuss, all while adapting to a new game style under new coach Andrew Sturgess.
Yes, they were outplayed by Northcote Park in Round 1 and, yes, they have suffered fadeouts in wins against North Heidelberg and West Preston-Lakeside. However, the Bulls’ best stacks up against anyone.
It takes a very good side to lead the Bulldogs by eight goals, which the Bulls did in Round 2. And it also takes a very good side to kick 15 goals in the opening three quarters away to the reigning premier – which the Bulls also managed last week.
Bundoora’s best players are all playing great football, with Daniel Venditti, Dale Marshall and Scott Dowell instrumental at J.E. Moore Park, while Gary Moorcroft just keeps kicking goals. His six-goal haul last week boosted his season total to 15.
Macleod took it right up to Greensborough last week, aided by poor kicking at goal by the Boro, but it still wasn’t enough to break the duck in 2019. The harsh reality for the Roos is that honourable defeats won’t get them out of their current funk and wins are all that matter from here.
Perhaps last week’s close loss was an indication that the tide is slowly starting to turn and the Roos forward line will be bolstered by the return of Reid Brandt this weekend, while a host of the club’s Coburg contingent could be available with the Lions having a bye in the VFL this weekend.
Hamish Paynter made a return to form last week and will be looking to carry that into this week after producing several big performances against the Bulls in recent years, while Brad Leggett’s strong form in the ruck makes for an enticing match-up against Matty Dennis.
Lower Plenty and Hurstbridge meet in vital match-up for both sides as they search for a much-needed win to relieve early-season relegation pressure.
Both sides would surely have pencilled this one in as a winnable game when the fixture was first released and given the recent form of both the game now takes on significant importance.
Lower Plenty has shown great spirit in the second half in each of the past two weeks when large blowouts looked on the cards. After restricting Bundoora to six second-half goals in Round 3, the Bears managed to win the second half against Northcote Park last week after trailing by 10 goals at the main break.
The club’s experienced players are doing their best to lead the way for the host of youngsters in the senior side, with Tom Blake, Fabian Dorbolo and Darcy Barden all among the best players last week, while Josh Turner and Ben Paterson also played well.
Unfortunately, scoring has dried up significantly since kicking 16.19 (115) in the Round 1 win over Montmorency, with the Bears averaging just 53 points a game over their past three matches.
The importance of this week’s game will not be lost on Hurstbridge after losing its opening four games of the year by an average of 10 goals. A loss this week would leave the Bridges extremely vulnerable and see them fall them two games and percentage behind the Bears.
In tough conditions last week, the Bridges stayed with Montmorency for three quarters, but were unable to lift an extra gear in the final term – losing by 17 points after scores were level at three quarter time.
This week’s match could well come down to which side takes its chances, given Hurstbridge’s similar woes in finding avenues to goal this year. The Bridges have managed just 28 majors across the opening four rounds, with only nine players kicking a goal in the first month of the season.
Round 5 concludes with a twilight fixture at War Memorial Park where Greensborough hosts West Preston-Lakeside from 4:10pm.
A fixture that looked a blockbuster at the start of the season amazing now pits an undefeated side against one without a win on the board in 2019.
It’s been an outstanding start to the season for Greensborough, who ranks No.1 in the competition in both attack and defence – sitting atop the ladder with a percentage of 214.41.
The Boro will gladly take any win over Macleod at De Winton Park, doing so last week without Dan McLinden, Liam Read and Jordan McIvor-Clark. However, not everything went according to plan.
Star recruit Tom Bell was sidelined from the first quarter with what looked a hamstring injury, while poor kicking at goal again plagued the Boro – with 17 consecutive behinds kicked between their first and second goals.
Greensborough has booted 21.43 over their past two weeks. The inaccuracy is certainly a cause for concern, however the ability to generate so many shots at goal must also be seen as a major positive.
West Preston-Lakeside goes into this week’s fixture knowing its premiership defence is hanging by a thread. Alternatively, the shackles could also be released given the fact they will go into the game as the rank outsider.
The Roosters showed glimpses of their best during last week’s loss to Bundoora – storming back into the contest in the second quarter after facing a big early deficit and then closing the game out well, although the match was sealed by the Bulls early in the last quarter.
While the task looks daunting this week, the Roosters have had an outstanding record against the Boro during Rob Maiorana’s tenure as coach – winning all four regular season outings over the past two years, although they did lose the 2017 elimination final.
Ahmed Saad has been a major factor in all four wins, booting 24 goals. If he can have a day out and the Roosters can provide enough support around him, they could have claims for an upset win that could kickstart their campaign.