Related: Weekend footy teams
SANDHURST v MARYBOROUGH
One half of good footy hardly makes a season, but for Maryborough last week's first-half performance against Kyneton was just what the club needed.
The young Magpies produced their best half of the year and led the Tigers at the main break.
In the end, the Tigers' class, depth and experience took over and the visitors won by eight goals, but the first 60 minutes showed Maryborough coach Ben Lavars that there's light at the end of the tunnel.
"While we're not getting the wins on the board, it's positive for the boys to see that the things we're working on at training are actually working,'' Lavars said ahead of Saturday's clash with Sandhurst at the QEO.
"If we can play like that more consistently then we can push the top sides.
"We might not have the experienced guys that other teams do, but the game plan is working. If we can do it for longer then the wins will, hopefully, come."
Lavars said the biggest improvement in the Magpies recently was there ability to pressure the opposition.
"One of the things where sides have beaten us a lot is spread from the contest,'' Lavars said.
"We held our spots really well and didn't over commit. We got numbers around the ball... so we had players to put pressure on in Kyneton got the ball clear.
"Sandhurst plays the QEO really well and we're going to need to keep that pressure up all day if we're to play competitive footy.
"We've talked a lot about that through the week and now we need to execute it on Saturday."
Sandhurst's midfield group has as much class and depth as any in the competition, but the Magpies won't be getting carried away with tagging or run-with roles.
"Coming from where we are, I'm reluctant to do shut down roles from the start,'' Lavars said.
"We have to back ourselves in. If you start games being too defensive it puts you on the back foot from the start.
"Sandhurst has a lot of good players. If you tag one, then someone else will get off the leash.
"We'll talk about the structures we need to do to restrict those players without having to put a hard tag on one player."
Maryborough's midfield group has been strengthened by the return of former North Ballarat on-baller Coby Perry and Lavars.
Perry has only played two games this season because of injury, while Lavars has played five matches.
"It enables us to have more midfield depth and gives us more experience on each line of the ground,'' Lavars said of the Magpies' inclusions this week.
"Our backline has been consistent this year because we have experienced guys like Bucky (Luke Bucknall) and Bodie (Malone) back there to steady the ship.
"Having Coby and myself back it will be good to have that experience on all three lines."
Lavars said Perry's influence on the Magpies wasn't restricted to game day.
"Coby is a professional guy and he wants to get out on the ground and help the club out,'' Lavars said.
"Hopefully, he can play a role for us. We're not trying to put too much pressure on him.
"His experience coming back from the Roosters has been super. One of the great things about Coby coming back to the club is his professionalism and level of expectation around training.
"It's hard to set training standards if you don't have the players that have trained at that higher level."
GISBORNE v GOLDEN SQUARE
It’s amazing how quickly things can change in footy.
Seven days ago, Golden Square was sitting pretty in the top three and confident of its chance against reigning premier Strathfieldsaye.
The Dogs were thrashed by the Storm, slipped to fourth on the ladder and are now seen as vulnerable for Saturday’s clash with old enemy Gisborne at Gardiner Reserve.
Square’s vulnerability is as much about Gisborne’s improvement as it is Square’s poor performance against the Storm.
Gisborne has won two-straight games and prior to that the young Dogs were competitive in losses to Kyneton and Sandhurst.
The return of Matt Goodyear on a full-time basis has injected some class into Gisborne’s midfield group and coach Clinton Young is only going to get better each week after his delayed start to the season.
If Golden Square can’t recapture the form it was showing prior to the loss to Strathfieldsaye, then Gisborne will make sure the visitors have a long afternoon at the office.
EAGLEHAWK v KANGAROO FLAT
Eaglehawk and Kangaroo Flat welcome back key personnel for Saturday’s clash at Canterbury Park.
The Hawks have been bolstered by the return of coach Josh Bowe and star forward Matt Gretgrix, while reigning best and fairest winner Jonathan Lanyon is back for the Roos.
One negative for the Hawks is the loss of in-form ruckman Jonty Neaves.
Neaves’ absence could be telling with Roos’ ruckman Nick Lang in great form in the past fortnight.
The Roos will take some confidence out of their recent record at Canterbury Park. They’ve won two of their past four games at the Borough.
The bottom line is the Hawks have few weak links and it would be a major surprise if they don’t win comfortably.
STRATHFIELDSAYE v SOUTH BENDIGO
The toughest test in Bendigo footy at the moment is unlocking the Strathfieldsaye defence.
The Storm is the only team this year not to concede more than 12 goals in a game.
The way the Storm have been moving the ball in recent weeks, South Bendigo is going to need to score more than 12 goals to get the points on Saturday.
Over the past month the Storm have averaged 19 goals per game, while the average score against in that period is 57 points.
The Bloods’ cause will be aided by the return of influential big man Kieran Strachan from VFL duties.
KYNETON v CASTLEMAINE
After a sub-par first half against Maryborough last week, expect the Tigers to come out roaring against Castlemaine on Saturday.
Kyneton coach Luke Beattie conceded his side didn’t give Maryborough the respect it deserved. It’s unlikely the Tigers will do the same against the battling Pies.
Castlemaine has conceded 52 and 45 scoring shots in its past two games. The defensive work of the Pies’ midfielders and back six will need to improve against the potent Tigers.