EAGLEHAWK will be chasing a top-two scalp when it clashes with Gisborne at Canterbury Park on Saturday.
The Hawks have enjoyed a mixed start to the 2019 season as they continue to battle injuries and absences, but are still handily placed in third spot with a 3-1-1 record.
A victory would lift the Hawks to within two points of the Bulldogs, who are currently one of two undefeated teams in the competition alongside reigning premier Sandhurst.
The Hawks fell to Sandhurst by 24 goals in round five, but can validate its right to be considered a premiership contender with a strong performance against the Bulldogs.
Joint coach Mali Roberts described the Hawks' inability to field their full squad of players this season as a frustration for both coaches and players
"This week we need to focus on a basics and getting those right," she said.
"We've had some inconsistent games so getting the basics right each quarter, ensuring the ball gets where it needs to and minimising the risks will certainly work in our favour.
"We need to be smart and change our patterns when things aren't working."
Roberts expected a pair of losses in their last two games against the Bulldogs, including a 10-goal defeat in last season's preliminary final, to provide some added motivation for the Hawks.
While most coaches identified Bulldogs star Maddy Stewart as potentially their biggest threat, the Hawks coach indicated there were plenty of others in the Gisborne line-up capable of causing distress.
"Maddy is a key player, but she is only one player," Roberts said.
"Gisborne in general, has always been a strong team all over the court. They are a well meshed and steady team every year regardless of the combinations.
"The season hasn't started for us the way Allira and I had expected - just a bit slow off the mark.
"However, I feel we have been sorting a lot out over the past weeks and starting to see some well improved changes in and around injuries, so I'm looking forward to the game on Saturday and other games ahead.
"I feel will only go up from here."
The Bulldogs will be without one of their shooters in Holly Doricic, who has been in excellent form in recent weeks.
Reigning Betty Thompson Medal winner Stewart insisted her side would need to rise to the challenge against a talented Hawks, led by their inter-league stars Allira Holmes, and Ashley and Abbey Ryan.
"We always seem to have a hard game against them and at their court they will be really tough to beat, but we are ready and raring to go," she said.
"We came up against them a few times last year and came away with one really big win (20 goals in round 12) and then we beat them in the finals, but a new season and new players, everything is different.
"We will be missing Holly Doricic, who has been playing really well, but we do have heaps of depth, so I feel we are prepared for that."
As indicated by their inter-league representation, Stewart believed the Hawks had strength in all three areas of the court.
"Allira in defence, Ashley in the midcourt and Abbey in goals are three of the dominant players in the competition - really strong and reliable," she said.
"We will have to really consider our match-ups on them."
Gisborne comes into the contest in ripping form following a 45-goal victory over Maryborough last round.
A win for the Bulldogs would set up a likely undefeated showdown between last season's grand finalists - Sandhurst and Gisborne - next round.
In other games, South Bendigo (2-3-1) gets a golden chance to continue its move up the ladder against fourth-placed Kangaroo Flat (3-2) at the QEO on Sunday.
The Bloods enhanced their claims as a finals contender with an impressive 11 goal at Kyneton last Saturday.
In other Saturday games, Sandhurst (5-0) returns from a bye to take on Golden Square (0-6) at the QEO, while Maryborough (2-3) hosts Kyneton (2-3).
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