VICTORIA Netball League commitments look set to rob several teams of firepower for a potentially season defining series of BFNL A-grade matches this weekend.
A blockbuster round of games includes a top-two showdown between Golden Square and Sandhurst at the QEO, a third versus fifth clash between Gisborne and Kangaroo Flat, and a battle involving two sides – Maryborough and South Bendigo - hopeful of forcing their way into the top five.
Elsewhere, finals aspirant Strathfieldsaye meets a fourth-placed Eaglehawk looking to rebound from a loss and force its way into the top three, while in another intriguing encounter at Castlemaine, the Magpies will be looking for their second win of the season against a Kyneton team aiming for its first.
Rarely does such a round of matches shape as having such important implications for all sections of the ladder.
At the QEO, visiting Golden Square and Sandhurst are both expecting to have key personnel missing.
With a full round of VNL matches scheduled for Sunday, Bulldogs coach Allira Holmes, who plays with Ballarat Sovereigns, is one of those who will be sidelined.
The Bulldogs will be further weakened by the loss of injured pair Kelly Wilson and Lucy Morcom, and BFNL defender Meg Gilbert, who is overseas.
Knowing they will be missing half their first-choice squad, Holmes said the Bulldogs would approach the game with no added pressure.
"We are not really going to know what we've got, or come up against Sandhurst at full-strength until September," she said.
"After speaking to (Sandhurst joint coach Tamara Gilchrist), I know they are pretty much in the same boat.
"It will be an interesting day. There's not much you can do about things like that and injuries."
The Dragons have joint coach Heather Oliver (Melbourne University) and Meg Williams, who is part of DC North East Blaze's under-19s team, playing VNL.
Holmes was expecting BFNL under-17 representative Makayle Dole to again step-up to A-grade after a promising effort in the Bulldogs' win over Strathfieldsaye, along with Georgia Anderson.
The Dragons defeated the Bulldogs 53-27 in round three.
Meanwhile, Kangaroo Flat will be missing its VNL pair Chelsea Sartori and Ruby Barkmeyer for a critical game at Gisborne.
But with Gisborne star Maddy Stewart also committed to playing with Melbourne University on Sunday, the Roos will be confident of their chances of repeating their earlier season win over the third-placed Bulldogs.
Eaglehawk’s VNL players are expected to be on-deck for the a danger clash against Strathfieldsaye.
The Hawks were left disappointed by their loss to the reigning premiers, but coach Mali Roberts was confident of a quick turnaround in form to keep their top three hopes alive.
“Our last game wasn't the best but with a break and solid training this week, we do want to perform well,” she said.
“There isn't long to go now, so the pressure is certainly on.”
The match at Canterbury Park will be the Storm’s third-straight against a top four opponent, with another one to follow next week against Gisborne.