A THIRST for putting Bendigo football back in the top six of the Worksafe Country Championships rankings is the driving force for the players ahead of today’s clash with Gippsland at the QEO.
The seventh-ranked BFNL must defeat the eighth-ranked Gippsland to grab the sixth ranking and a 2015 clash with either Ballarat or Goulburn Valley.
A defeat would see the BFNL slip to ninth and a 2015 clash against lower-profile leagues Yarra Valley or Mallee.
“The boys have spoken about wanting to grow as a group and grow the brand of Bendigo footy,’’ BFNL coach Rick Ladson said.
“There’s no individuals in this group. It’s a team environment and it’s all about representing Bendigo.
“The boys understand the importance of the rankings.
“We win we’re back in the top six, lose and we drop away to ninth.
“It wasn’t so long ago (2011) that we were playing off against Geelong for a crack at the top two rankings.
“Things can change quickly and we want this year to be the start of something special for Bendigo footy.”
The first task is to defeat a Gippsland side that will go into the game with a distinct height advantage.
The visitors are particularly potent inside forward 50.
“If Gippsland’s talls like James Gibbs, Darren Sheen and Mitch Davis, start clunking it then they will cause us trouble,’’ Ladson said.
“They’ve named a very talented squad and that’s the beauty of these inter-league games.
“We know we’re going to be up against a taller side and we’re ready for that challenge.
“It’s up to us to win the majority of possession, so that we we ease the pressure on our backline.”
Maryborough’s Tyson MacIlwain and Sandhurst’s Matt Thornton will hold down the two key position posts for the BFNL, while Golden Square’s Jon Coe and Gisborne’s Tim Walsh have shown they are more than capable of playing on taller opponents.
The BFNL’s midfield group holds the key to the home side’s success.
Skipper Jack Geary, Eaglehawk dynamo Brodie Filo, Strathfieldsaye’s and Sandhurst duo Ryan Maldenis and Nick Stagg are enjoying superb seasons and they’ll provide most of the grunt work for Bendigo..
Strathfieldsaye’s Nick Smith and Jake Hall and Kangaroo Flat’s James Saville will give the home side plenty of run.
Should Bendigo’s midfield group win the majority of possession then it’s hard to see Gippsland’s back six being able to contain Bendigo’s star-studded forward line.
Stephen Milne, Corey Jones, Mitch Dole and Ben Weightman are mid-sized forwards that have all kicked bags of goals this season, while big men Ryan Haythorpe and Cam Rinaldi will cause problems in the air for Gippsland.
“If we can get it right in the middle with Timmy Martin and Tom Waters in the ruck and get first use of the footy, then we’re going to give our forwards the best chance to hit the scoreboard,’’ Ladson said.
“The most important thing is that we make the most of our opportunities.
“Momentum is massive in these big games and when we have control of the play we must hit the scoreboard and kick straight.”