Eaglehawk's BFNL premiership credentials will undergo a stringent exam over the next month.
The Hawks sit in second place with a 4-1 record after five rounds, but their four wins have come against the bottom fours teams on the ladder.
Their only test against a top side was a one-point loss to South Bendigo at the QEO in round two.
Starting with Gisborne at Canterbury Park on Saturday, the Hawks round out the first half of the season with tough games against Sandhurst (away), Strathfieldsaye (home) and Golden Square (away).
"The South Bendigo game was our last big challenge and we didn't get the job done,'' Eaglehawk coach Travis Matheson said.
"At the time we were really disappointed, but as results have panned out the form stacks up okay.
"This is a good opportunity for us to have another crack at a top five team and see if we can come out on top.
"This is our first crack at playing a top five team on our home deck this year. We're expecting a big crowd and we're looking forward to it."
Matheson said the tightness of the competition made it difficult to gauge where his side sits.
"It's hard to have a sense of where you're at,'' Matheson said.
"You can feel as though you're travelling well, but it only takes one loss to bring you back to the pack.
"I think there's only two games difference between first and sixth at the moment and the games you play against those top six teams are so valuable if you can win them."
Gisborne's dynamic key forwards Pat McKenna and Jack Scanlon stand out as the biggest problem for the Borough on Saturday.
Brenton Conforti and Clayton Holmes would normally be options for Matheson to use in key defensive posts, but both are on the sidelines injured.
"Regardless of who you play on McKenna and Scanlon, if the ball is moving easily into their forward then they're going to be hard to stop,'' Matheson said.
"We have to put some heat on up the field to help our defenders out.
"Our focus is on making sure we win enough ball out of the middle.
"Our midfield has been fantastic and if you can win the ball out of the centre then our forwards get first look at it before the opposition gets numbers back.
"Midfield dominance helps our backs, but it also makes life easier for the forwards."
The Bulldogs have lost some drive in their midfield through the loss to Scott Walsh and Sam Graham, but they do regain Lachlan Crosbie and they will unveil wingman/half-back Bailee Revell, who'll play his first senior game for the club since crossing from Rupertswood.
After a 0-2 start, Strathfieldsaye has made a steady climb up the BFNL ladder on the back of three-straight wins.
On Saturday the reigning premier Storm head to the QEO for the first time this year to tackle a South Bendigo side on the rebound from its first loss of the season.
The Storm squad is starting to have an ominous look - particularly forward of the ball.
Young guns Cooper Jones and Caleb Ernst could line up inside forward 50 against the Bloods alongside premiership stars Lachlan Sharp and Harry Conway.
"We lost a couple of early games against quality opponents, so now we need to make sure we redeem ourselves,'' Storm co-coach Darryl Wilson said.
"We've got to play catch-up a bit, but we're back on the QEO - which is a ground we love to play - and we see this as a great opportunity for us.
"South Bendigo has obviously added some quality players this year and they're playing some good footy, so it will be a good test for us."
Classy midfielder Jake Moorhead returns to the Storm line-up, while the Storm will take advantage of the availability of two of the Pioneers' premier players.
"(Caleb) Ernst was best on ground in the Vic Country game last week and we rate (Bode) Stevens highly,'' Wilson said.
"He's a bull and we're looking forward to him giving us more contested ball."
Wilson said it's exciting to see a plethora of Storm players aged 22 or under making their mark in senior footy.
"It's been the likes of (Daniel) Clohesy, (Cal) McCarty, (Jye) Formosa, (Baxter) Slater, (Hunter) Lawrence and (Lachie) Gill that are chipping in and playing their role for us,'' Wilson said
"(Tim) Hosking is only 18 and he came up against one of the best ruckmen in the competition last week (Kangaroo Flat's Nick Lang) and we were excited about his output.
"We've rolled a lot of players through the seniors already this year, which is exciting for the club."
South Bendigo made one change at the selection table, with defender Alex Smith-Ralph replacing the injured Jake Miller.
Read more: Catch up on all the latest local footy news
The one thing Castlemaine can't afford is injuries and, unfortunately, the Magpies have lost two of their most promising young players for Saturday's home game against ladder leader Sandhurst.
Brodie Byrne (elbow) and Angus Mayes (thumb) will miss Saturday's clash, which puts added strain on the Pies' depth.
"It's not ideal, but we'll be there and the boys will be ready to play,'' Castlemaine coach Don Moran said.
"As we've said all along it's not about the scoreboard this year, it's about teaching these boys good football habits and preparing them the best way we can.
"We're starting to get quite a few injuries, but the boys around the club are sticking fat and doing their best."
A silver lining for Castlemaine is the absence of Sandhurst key forward Matt Thornton.
His place was taken by Bendigo Pioneers-listed key position player Cobi Maxted, who played for Vic Country in the Young Guns Challenge last weekend.
Former Wedderburn half-back Jayden Jones will play his first senior game for Sandhurst after stringing together some good footy in the reserves.
Kyneton has the opportunity to stay in touch with the top five when it hosts Maryborough on Saturday.
The Tigers have a 2-3 record and a win over the Pies could potentially leave the club only percentage outside of the top five at the end of the round.
Inconsistency has hurt Kyneton over the first five games.
The Tigers' best footy has matched it with some of the top teams, but there's a big gap between their best and worst footy and that opens the door for Maryborough to pounce.
The Magpies, who welcome back skipper Coby Perry for his first game of 2021, were competitive for four quarters against Golden Square last week and a repeat of that performance would have them well-placed to upstage the Tigers on their home deck.
Golden Square and Kangaroo Flat have the weekend off. They'll play a stand-alone game at Dower Park next Saturday.
BFNL teams - round six
CASTLEMAINE v. SANDHURST
B: N. Woodman, D. Stephens, L. Martini
HB: R. Pedretti, J. Hood, J. Watson
C: K. Jermyn, D. Slingo, J. Byrne
HF: D. Slingo, L. Wilkinson, R. Woodlock
F: B. Keogh, J. Cochrane, H. Bassett
R: J. Collie, C. McConachy, W. Moran
Int: Z. Doherty, J. Hardman, C. Kuhle, K. Gellatly
Emg: N. O'Brien
In: B. Keogh, Z. Doherty, R. Woodlock, N. O'Brien, K. Gellatly
Out: A. Mayes, S. Nettleton, F. Palmer-Jennings, B. Byrne
B: J. Jones, S. O'Farrell, M. Leyden
HB: N. Walsh, L. Ireland, L. Ross
C: J. Mittell, J. Coghlan, J. McLean
HF: L. Zimmer, C. Maxted, J. Wharton
F: M. Rovers, O. McKinley, B. Montague
R: C. Down, B. Holmes, N. Stagg
Int: J. Zimmer, L. Ross, I. Carracher, T. Calvert
In: L. Ross, C. Maxted, J. Jones
Out: M. Thornton, I. Ruff, T. Nally
EAGLEHAWK v. GISBORNE
B: J. Dye, J. Mullen, J. Findlay
HB: B. Evans, O. Madden, S. Thompson
C: S. Harper, G. Hommelhoff, K. Hommelhoff
HF: S. Knott, D. Richards, H. Gadsden
F: N. Wheeler, R. McIvor, L. Davis
R: J. Lawton, R. Saunders, B. Filo
Int: K. Lloyd, B. Thompson, J. Twycross, D. Hanley
In: O. Madden, H. Gadsden
Out: S. Dean, D. Wust
B: Z. Vescovi, J. Reaper, L. Rodgers
HB: F. Schipano, J. Lynch, N. Doolan
C: M. Lord, T. Crosbie, T. Fraser
HF: J. Kemp, J. Scanlon, J. O'Brien
F: A. Belcher, P. Mckenna, S. Bell-Bartels
R: B. Blake, B. Bernacki, F. Lakey
Int: B. Eales, B. Revell, L. Shore, L. Crosbie
In: B. Revell, L. Crosbie, A. Belcher
Out: S. Walsh, L. Spear, S. Graham
KYNETON v. MARYBOROUGH
B: W. Daly, J. Ellis, S. Foreman
HB: B. McGee, H. Huntley, J. Willmott
C: C. Barry, R. Magin, J. Gaff
HF: B. Cameron, G. Dickson, L. Thompson
F: C. Wallace, R. Pretty, A. Nolte
R: J. Mangan, J. O'Sullivan, N. O'Sullivan
Int: S. Caruso, E. Davie, T. Agnew, L. Phillips, A. Beckerley, M. Johnston, H. Ingleton
In: M. Johnston, H. Ingleton, E. Davie, A. Beckerley, S. Caruso
Out: J. Orr, T. O'Sullivan
B: A. Hare, K. Lanfranchi, K. Santon
HB: C. Freeman, J. Postle, J. Hooper
C: A. Humphrey, L. Butler, L. Hull
HF: L. Ratcliff, F. Russell, J. Fraser
F: T. Gardam, H. Monk, M. Bilton
R: B. Neill, B. Edwards, Z. Polinelli
Int: T. Kennedy, C. Perry, J. Templeton, K. Andrews
In: T. Kennedy, C. Perry, J. Hooper, K. Andrews, J. Templeton
Out: H. Cain, L. Murphy, L. Latch, A. Robertson, D. Vadala
SOUTH BENDIGO v. STRATHFIELDSAYE
B: C. Taggert, A. Vanheumen, Z. Hare
HB: B. Torpey, D. Johnstone, T. Brereton
C: O. Simpson, B. Haddow, O. White
HF: W. Keck, D. Nalder, B. Harvey
F: M. Herlihy, K. Antonowicz, S. Brazier
R: W. Allen, C. Leon, N. Horbury
Int: L. Furness, J. Swatton, J. Sheahan, A. Smith-Ralph
In: A. Smith-Ralph
Out: J. Miller
B: F. Payne, B. Lester, J. Neylon
HB: K. Smith, B. Henderson, J. Schischka
C: C. Sheahan, L. Gill, H. Lawrence
HF: T. Bennett, C. Jones, J. Formosa
F: M. Wakefield, L. Sharp, B. Slater
R: T. Hosking, S. Geary, C. McCarty
Int: L. White, Z. Charles, L. Ratcliffe, D. Clohesy, C. Ernst, J. Moorhead, B. Stevens, H. Conway
In: C. Ernst, J. Moorhead, C. Jones, H. Conway, B. Stevens
Out: R. Clarke
Read more: South Bendigo coach free to play Storm
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