IT'S rounds like Saturday that highlight why there was such a buzz surrounding the Heathcote District Football League during the pre-season.
Three of the four games that signal the halfway mark of the season all have major selling points and why Saturday is arguably the round of the season so far.
At the top of the billing is the keenly-anticipated clash of top-three sides North Bendigo and Mount Pleasant.
At the start of the season the Bulldogs and Blues were touted as two of the top challengers to the reign of domination of Lockington-Bamawm United.
So far the Bulldogs (6-1) are living up to that expectation, and have not only won five games in a row, but claimed the scalp of the Cats by 16 points three weeks ago.
The Addy power rankings have the Bulldogs' currently ranked the HDFL's No.1 side.
After their five years in the doldrums - an eternity for a successful club like Mount Pleasant - the Blues are finally back up and about under new coach Derrick Filo.
Filo always said the Blues would get better as the season wore on, and at 5-2, they appear well placed to continue to push forward in the second half of the year.
The added intrigue to Saturday's clash is the "Eaglehawk factor", with the Bulldogs and Blues two of the clubs that tapped into the Canterbury Park stocks during the off-season.
Matt Gretgrix, Kain Robins, Tim Hill and Luke Milroy all joined Mount Pleasant from Eaglehawk, while Tyson Findlay, Darcy Richards and Tony Plim left the Hawks for North Bendigo.
At White Hills, the Demons will put their credentials to the test against the might of Lockington-Bamawm United.
The Demons (4-3) have been ruthless the past two rounds in disposing of the HDFL's two winless teams in Heathcote and Elmore by a combined 241 points to move to fourth on the ladder.
Taking on the three-time defending premiers is a whole different ball game, but the Demons appear to be as well-placed as ever since the last time they beat the Cats back in round 16, 2007, to take it up to the champs.
But as is the case every week being the hunted, the Cats (6-1) must get themselves up again to take on another challenger with ambitions of knocking off the benchmark side.
And just up the road at Huntly, there's another cracking contest between two mid-table sides in the Hawks and Leitchville-Gunbower.
The Bombers (4-3) and Hawks (3-4) are fifth and seventh on the ladder and separated by a game.
The Bombers, after winning their first four games, have tumbled down the ladder on the back of three losses in a row.
From seemingly the No.1 challenger to LBU early on, the Bombers will have a fight on their hands just to make the finals if they don't arrest their slump, starting against the Hawks, who could drop two games outside the top five if they lose, so there's also high stakes for last year's grand finalists.
Meanwhile, the HDFL ladder has a unique look to it, with seven of the nine teams all having percentages over 100 - LBU (176.4), North Bendigo (159.2), White Hills (135.8), Leitchville-Gunbower (134.0), Mount Pleasant (109.7), Colbinabbin (108.3) and Huntly (105.8).