A POTENTIAL finals match-up between Gisborne and Sandhurst at Gardiner Reserve has ended in a thrilling draw.
The clash between two of the BFNL's premier teams certainly lived up to its billing, with the Bulldogs clawing their way back from a five goal deficit early in the final term to share the points with the red-hot Dragons.
Earlier, it was the Dragons who had to dig deep, when they turned a half time deficit into a slender three quarter time lead with a sizzling third quarter of netball.
Such was the pace and quality of the contest, Gisborne skipper Maddy Stewart said players on both teams would have been left exhausted and perhaps a little disappointed not to claim the full four points.
"Obviously we were disappointed to get the draw when we saw there was opportunity to get the win," she said.
"In saying that we were really happy to match Sandhurst.
"It was a real clean, but tough contest all the way down the court, so we were happy with how we went."
The Dragons had excellent contributors in goal shooter Bec Smith and joint captain Heather Oliver, whose duel with Rachel McKenzie evolved into a classic match-up.
Wing attack Tarryn Rymer and Tiana Newman were among Gisborne's best.
The Bulldogs remain in third position on the ladder, but with growing confidence a top three position could be theirs come finals.
"We know going forward that anytime we come up against Sandhurst it will be a really tough battle, but we can match it with them," Stewart said.
"We were happy to put out a good performance - we didn't quite get the win but were close to it."
Golden Square took advantage of Sandhurst’s draw to claim outright top spot with an 80-30 win over Castlemaine.
The Bulldogs are the only side with eight wins in the first nine games.
At Kangaroo Flat, South Bendigo stunned their reigning premiers with a 38-35 win.
It was the Bloods' biggest win in several seasons and moved their record to 4-5, one win behind the fifth-placed Roos at 5-4.
The Benita Swatton-coached Bloods have already eclipsed last season's win total by two and look set for a big second half of the season.
At Strathfieldsaye, the Storm moved into sixth position with a 66-40 win over Kyneton.
The Storm got on top early to lead 17-9 at quarter time and increased their lead at every change.
It was their fourth win in five games and has the Storm handily placed at the halfway point and ready to pounce should one of the current top five slip up.
Strathfieldsaye coach Aleiha Langdon said it was pleasing to see her players rewarded for their persistence.
"The girls have been working really hard, we had a real hard start to the season against the top four sides Sandhurst, Golden Square, Eaglehawk and Gisborne," she said.
"To get together and play a real strong four quarters was fantastic.
"Kyneton are always strong and physical, you can't take anything away from them. If you don't play well their physical strength will overpower you.
"But the girls really took the game up to them."
Langdon said goal defence Claudia Powell and goal keeper Elyse Morgan had teamed well throughout the contest.
At the other end of the court, goal shooter Claire Gibbs scored 36 goals, with just four misses for the day.
At Maryborough, Eaglehawk kept the pressure firmly on the top three with a nine goal win.
The Hawks, who were without star defender Zoe Davies, won 59-50 and are in fourth position, two points behind third-placed Gisborne.
In next week's games, Golden Square hosts a rebounding Kangaroo Flat, Sandhurst plays Strathfieldsaye at the QEO, Eaglehawk meets South Bendigo at Canterbury Park, Gisborne clashes with Kyneton at Gardiner Reserve, and Maryborough is at home to Castlemaine.