BENDIGO FOOTBALL LEAGUE - RD 16
MARYBOROUGH (1-14) v SANDHURST (8-6-1) - 2.20pm Saturday at Maryborough.
After last week’s win over South Bendigo the Dragons are back within half-a-game of the top five ahead of the trip to Princes Park, where they’d be expected to bank another four points.
The Magpies now have three games to audition for prospective coaches next year after Shane Skontra announced earlier in the week he was stepping down at the end of the season.
Disappointing for the club to be losing a coach of the calibre of Skontra, who has put in a power of work in his two years trying to lift the Magpies off the canvas.
Last time: Sandhurst 18.16 (124) d Maryborough 8.3 (51).
KANGAROO FLAT (3-12) v STRATHFIELDSAYE (12-3) - 2.20pm Saturday at Kangaroo Flat.
It will be “Lachlan Sharp watch” at Dower Park, with the dynamic Storm forward needing just four more goals to reach the century in what’s his return season from a knee reconstruction.
Given he has kicked 32 in his past three games, you’d fancy Sharp’s chances of getting the four he needs against the young Roos, who will be aiming to build on their two-and-a-half quarters of competitive football against Kyneton last week and sustain it for longer.
Last time: Strathfieldsaye 16.6 (102) d Kangaroo Flat 5.5 (35).
CASTLEMAINE (2-13) v GISBORNE (4-11) - 2.20pm Saturday at Castlemaine.
After joining the club in 2012, Jarryd Graham will play his 100th game for the Magpies when they host the Bulldogs.
The Bulldogs haven’t played as well on the road as they have at home this season, which provides the Magpies a better chance of giving “Muffa” a win in his milestone match.
Last time: Gisborne 20.25 (145) d Castlemaine 11.4 (70).
KYNETON (10-4-1) v EAGLEHAWK (13-2) - 2.20pm Saturday at Kyneton.
Looms as a belter at the Showgrounds between the league’s two form teams.
The top-of-the-ladder Hawks will carry a 10-game winning streak into the match, while the Tigers, who are proving a tough nut to crack on their home deck, have won six on the trot.
Both teams are on their best winning streaks since their last premiership years – Eaglehawk in 2008 and Kyneton in 1997.
If beating the team that has knocked them out in the elimination final the past two years, plus again losing by seven points to the Hawks earlier in the season, isn’t enough motivation for the Tigers, they have stalwart Darren Chambers playing senior game No.250.
Will history repeat for the Tigers, who beat the Hawks by 34 points in Chambers’ debut game back in round five, 1996?
Last time: Eaglehawk 18.11 (119) d Kyneton 17.10 (112).
SOUTH BENDIGO (9-6) v GOLDEN SQUARE (12-3) - 2.20pm Saturday at QEO.
The Bulldogs are guaranteed a 13th-straight finals appearance, while the pressure on the Bloods to hold onto their position in the top five has been amplified.
The Bloods are now just two points clear of the chasing Sandhurst and if they don’t get over the line on Saturday, they are likely to slip outside the top five.
Last time: Golden Square 12.13 (85) d South Bendigo 11.10 (76).
• Round 16 tips:
Kieran Iles (64) - Sandhurst (84), Strathfieldsaye (77), Gisborne (22), Kyneton (2), Golden Square (11).
Richard Jones (64) - Sandhurst (90), Strathfieldsaye (61), Gisborne (32), Kyneton (7), Golden Square (30).
Luke West (62) - Sandhurst (84), Strathfieldsaye (80), Gisborne (40), Kyneton (12), Golden Square (25).
Adam Bourke (60) - Sandhurst (78), Strathfieldsaye (65), Gisborne (36), Eaglehawk (6), Golden Square (24).
BRIDGEWATER (11-5) v NEWBRIDGE (11-5) - 2.15pm Saturday at Mitiamo.
The 2017 finals kick off with two bitter rivals facing off as the Mean Machine and Maroons lock horns.
Based on their two home and away meetings the Maroons deserve to go in as favourites after twice beating the Mean Machine by 27 and 21 points.
But beating Bridgewater in finals is no easy feat – the Mean Machine have won 15 finals in a row from 2010 and when it gets to this time of year have built an aura that comes with winning seven flags on the trot.
However, the Mean Machine will want to turn up with a better mindset than last week’s shock 44-point loss to Marong – hardly an ideal tune-up performance for the finals.
Rd 7 - Newbridge 15.6 (96) d Bridgewater 10.9 (69).
Rd 16 - Newbridge 11.9 (75) d Bridgewater 8.6 (54).
MITIAMO (9-7) v BEARS LAGOON-SERPENTINE (9-7) - 2.15pm Sunday at Calivil.
What a story the Bears have been this season – and it may still have a chapter or two to be written.
Winless last year to playing finals 12 months later has been a remarkable turnaround by a club that opened the season a $101 flag chance with Sportsbet.
After an up-and-down campaign Mitiamo is in its best form of the season with three wins in a row by a combined 274 points and coach Justin Maddern finally getting the consistent team footy he has been craving.
Rd 5 - Mitiamo 12.11 (83) d BL-Serpentine 7.13 (55).
Rd 14 - BL-Serpentine18.9 (117) d Mitiamo 8.7 (55).
Luke West (54) - Bridgewater (12), Mitiamo (18).
Adam Bourke (53) - Newbridge (14), BL-Serpentine (10).
Kieran Iles (51) - Bridgewater (11), BL-Serpentine (4).
HEATHCOTE DISTRICT - RD 18
ELMORE (3-11-1) v NORTH BENDIGO (14-1) - 2.15pm Saturday at Elmore.
There has been some long days for Elmore this season with six losses by more than 100 points.
This shapes as another long one against the Bulldogs, who with finals now around the corner will have 22 players on Saturday pressing their case to ensure they are in the side when North Bendigo next takes to the field in the second semi a fortnight later.
Last time: North Bendigo 25.27 (177) d Elmore 5.10 (40).
LEITCHVILLE-GUNBOWER (14-1) v LBU (4-11) - 2.15pm Saturday at Gunbower.
The Bombers have won their past four meetings with the Cats by margins of 129, 125, 107 and 109 points against their one-time nemesis.
Hard to see the free-scoring Bombers at their Gunbower fortress not winning in another blowout.
Whatever the result is on Saturday, the improved Cats are going to end the season with at least three more wins than last year.
Last time: Leitchville-Gunbower 25.19 (169) d LBU 6.4 (40).
HEATHCOTE (4-11) v HUNTLY (9-6) - 2.15pm Saturday at Heathcote.
Marquee weekend for the Saints, who are holding a 50-year reunion in celebration of their club being formed in the wake of Heathcote North and Heathcote South having disbanded in early 1967.
It will no doubt be a big Saturday off the field for the club, but on-field a challenging day looks on the cards against a Huntly side that has won three of its past five games by more than 100 points and hasn’t lost to the Saints since 2011.
Last time: Huntly 18.22 (130) d Heathcote 11.10 (76).
MOUNT PLEASANT (2-12-1) v WHITE HILLS (6-9) - 2.15pm Saturday at Toolleen.
The curtain comes down on what will be a wooden-spoon season for Mount Pleasant – when was the last time that was said?
The Blues sat 2-2 after four games, but since have 10 losses by an average of 110 points and a draw in their past 11 games.
The fifth-placed Demons have a finals series to look forward to after Saturday. Although, you wouldn’t know it based on their formline of five losses in a row.
Last time: White Hills 12.13 (85) d Mount Pleasant 10.4 (64).
• Round 18 tips:
Kieran Iles (58) - North Bendigo (99), Leitchville (77), Huntly (74), White Hills (42).
Adam Bourke (56) - North Bendigo (125), Leitchville (94), Huntly (75), White Hills (18).
Luke West (55) - North Bendigo (110), Leitchville (100), Huntly (85), White Hills (30).