MARONG and Bears Lagoon-Serpentine's hopes of breaking long finals droughts in LVFNL netball will be put to the test at Malone Park on Saturday.
The Panthers and Bears will square off in one of the most important battles for each club in several seasons.
With both clubs harbouring aspirations of finals actions, the Panthers or Bears can move a step closer to contention, and at the other side's expense.
The Panthers (seventh) and Bears (sixth) enter round seven with two wins apiece, level on eight points with fifth-placed Maiden Gully YCW, which meets bottom-side Pyramid Hill at Mitchell Park this weekend.
Bears Lagoon-Serpentine has played one less game than Marong, having had a bye in round one.
There was no denying the importance of the match from rival coaches Linda Bickerdike, from Marong, and Bears Lagoon-Serpentine's Sally Sheahan.
"I feel both sides have really improved this season, so we are expecting a really good match," Bickerdike said.
"We are going well, (but) I have moved my players around a bit early in the season and I probably haven't given them a chance to settle as much as I would like.
"When you have that good group of girls, trying to find that perfect spot for them that works in a new team can take time, but we are working through that process.
"There's definitely been improvement."
A win over the Bears would give Marong an equal numbers of wins to the number it achieved last season in an indication of how far the Panthers have come.
Impressively, Bears Lagoon-Serpentine has already exceeded its 2018 win total by two after going winless last season.
Bickerdike believed there were obvious comparisons to be drawn between the two sides.
"On paper they are looking very good, they have given a few of the stronger teams a good run for their money," she said.
"They have an influx of new players, which has been great for them.
"It's been nice to see some of the clubs who have struggled in recent years up there with a chance."
An indication of Marong's improvement came last week, with two Panthers - Teagan Bickerdike and Kim Dalton - representing the LVFNL against Horsham District at inter-league level.
First-year Bears coach Sheahan said the importance of Saturday's game was not lost on her largely new-look team, but was happy with the progress her team had shown through the early rounds.
"They are progressing every week. We have had a few tweaks in the team, but I am really happy with how we are travelling," she said.
"Emily Streeter is one player who is doing really well, but it's the team that is really gelling well and I have always said that it's the team as a whole, not individuals, that will make us.
"I would think it's a must-win game for both us. I call (these games) non-negotiables."
The Bears will enter the clash rested following the inter-league break and in good form after a win over Pyramid Hill and a solid performance against reigning premiers Bridgewater in a 10-goal loss.
They are hopeful of regaining key defender and 2015 league best and fairest Sarah Perry, who has been nursing a calf injury.
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