Tight finishes whet the appetite for HDFL finals
IF Saturday's round of the Heathcote District Football League was the entree to the finals in three weeks, bring on the main meal.
The top four teams - North Bendigo, Lockington-Bamawm United, Leitchville-Gunbower and Mount Pleasant - all faced off against each other, with the combined margins in the two games just six points.
A one-point win to North Bendigo over LBU was coupled with Leitchville-Gunbower sneaking past Mount Pleasant by five points.
With the business end now on the horizon, those two results further highlight just how exciting a finals series we're in for.
That's reflected in the Sportsbet premiership odds that last week had those top four teams all rated between a $2.50 and $6 chance for the flag.
Certainly, all the pre-season hype surrounding the HDFL and just how open it was expected to be on the back of the recruiting frenzy is coming to fruition.
North Bendigo deservedly carries the tag as the flag favourites and the Bulldogs have got themselves into the ideal position now with top spot as good as locked up.
With two rounds remaining, the Bulldogs - chasing their first flag since 1977 - are two games, plus 36 per cent, clear at the top of the ladder and can begin planning for the finals series knowing they will have the first week off.
The Bulldogs have now won 12 in a row - eight by more than 10 goals - but Saturday's win was all about grit and determination to overcome a 15-point deficit at three quarter-time at the toughest venue for visiting teams to win at.
Since 2010 the Cats have played 39 games at home, with Saturday just their third loss.
The Cats have now lost twice this season to North Bendigo, but much like Geelong or Golden Square, you will never discount their ability to turn the tables in September.
They've been there before, having won the past three flags, and while they may have lost that aura about them of years gone by, they are still second on the ladder.
Although, what shapes as a potential season-ending hamstring injury to Jonathan Hay won't help their cause in their bid for the four-peat.
Saturday's thrilling clash - which many have touted as the grand final preview - continues a string of tight encounters for the Cats, who in their past six games have now had four decided by six points or less for three wins and a loss.
Meanwhile, Leitchville-Gunbower is now in the box seat to grab the double chance after coming from 14 points down at three quarter-time to beat Mount Pleasant at home.
The Bombers have won six of their past seven and in what's another clash that should whet the finals appetite this week, they take on North Bendigo.
As for Mount Pleasant, the Blues - who are effectively only two goals off sitting second after losing their past two games by five and six points - are now likely to have to do it the hard way from the elimination final.
The Blues' elimination final opponent should be White Hills, who for all their inconsistency shouldn't be discounted from making a finals impact either considering they have been good enough to beat both North Bendigo and LBU.