MUCH like the AFL this weekend, one of the most exciting rounds of the Bendigo Football-Netball League season is set for Saturday.
Round 11 of the BFNL features four of the top-five teams playing against each other (Strathfieldsaye v Sandhurst, Gisborne v Kyneton), a crunch game between 6th and 7th (South Bendigo v Eaglehawk) where the loser's finals aspirations will take a major hit, plus a winning opportunity for both of the two bottom sides (Castlemaine v Maryborough) who face off against each other.
Arguably the only match where you would be tipping with some confidence is the game at Dower Park where Kangaroo Flat plays its long-time nemesis Golden Square - an opponent the Roos have lost 40-consecutive games against.
Still, that Bulldogs' reign of dominance over the Roos that began in 2001 has to finally end one day - doesn't it? - but it's hard to see that happening on Saturday, particularly considering just how well Golden Square has got the defensive side of its game in order.
Gisborne v Kyneton has long been touted as one of the great rivalries of the BFNL since the Bulldogs joined the competition in 2001.
The reality though is it has really only been a rivalry built on location and not for competitive games on the field given rarely have the two clubs been up and about at the same time.
They have never played in a senior BFNL final against each other and overall the head-to-head record is a lopsided 30-10 in favour of Gisborne.
But on Saturday the stage is set for a genuine blockbuster between the two at Gardiner Reserve, with Gisborne sitting on top of the ladder and Kyneton putting together its best stretch of wins since its former glory days of the '90s.
The Tigers have won six games in a row, are on the cusp of the top three and have come a hell of a long way since Good Friday when they copped an 89-point belting at home from the Bulldogs.
It has been a tough season for both Castlemaine and Maryborough with just one win between them, but they will both head into Saturday's game against each other at Camp Reserve with a genuine winning chance.
Castlemaine took its chance against Maryborough in round two to snap its 48-game losing streak.
Can Maryborough after a much more competitive past month capitalise on this chance and remove the prospect of enduring a winless 2022?
To use a cliche, the South Bendigo-Eaglehawk clash is very much an "eight-point game" considering the state of play in the middle of the BFNL ladder.
The Hawks (6th) and Bloods (7th) are part of a three-way logjam with Sandhurst (5th), with the three teams all separated by percentage and there likely to be room for only one of them in the top five come September.
Sandhurst heads to Tannery Lane to face Strathfieldsaye hot on the heels of being the first team last week to defeat Gisborne by 37 points on the back of a scintillating burst of eight unanswered goals at the QEO.
"The challenge is to back up from last week. The players enjoyed last week and we've got to approach this game the same way and bring the same effort and execution," Sandhurst coach Ashley Connick said.
The players enjoyed last week and we've got to approach this game the same way and bring the same effort and execution- Ashley Connick - Sandhurst coach
"If we do that again then we're confident we can win the game."
The Dragons have lost James Mittell (broken fibula), Noah Walsh (broken hand) and Blair Holmes (hamstring tightness) from last week's winning side.
Meanwhile, Strathfieldsaye co-coach Darryl Wilson says his side must bring the same endeavour around the contest as it did in last week's 26-point win over Eaglehawk, with the Storm to again be missing two of its key forward pillars in captain Lachlan Sharp (groin) and Caleb Ernst (osteitis pubis).
"We're looking to continue on our form from last week. There was some really pleasing form in the first half in particular by our midfield last week," Wilson said.
"We'll have to stop-gap our forward line a bit again this week and manufacture some goals from our smaller players.
"We're really looking forward to Saturday's contest... Sandhurst has beaten Golden Square at Square and knocking off Gisborne last week, we're certainly going to have to play well to get over them."
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