LOCKINGTON-Bamawm United and Colbinabbin will be jostling for top spot in the Heathcote District league on Saturday in one of two blockbusters two weeks out from the finals.
Saturday's round 17 features the top four teams all pitted against each other as the Cats (1st) host the Grasshoppers (2nd), while Mount Pleasant (3rd) and North Bendigo (4th) do battle at Toolleen.
The Cats (52 points), Grasshoppers (50), Blues (44) and Bulldogs (42) are all guaranteed to finish in the top four spots, it's just a matter of what order.
Here's the scenarios at play heading into those two pivotal clashes:
If LBU beats Colbinabbin - then top spot is a lock for the Cats. They would move six points clear at the top and with only one round remaining after Saturday couldn't be dislodged from pole position.
If Colbinabbin beats LBU - the Grasshoppers would move two points ahead of the Cats in first position. Given LBU would be a short-priced favourite to beat Elmore in the final round the Grasshoppers would then most likely have to also beat Mount Pleasant next week to hold onto top spot.
If Mount Pleasant beats North Bendigo - the Blues haven't had the security of a double chance since 2007, but can guarantee a top-three finish with a win at home over North Bendigo. Finishing second would be the best the Blues could hope for, but in reality, second or third is neither here nor there.
If North Bendigo beats Mount Pleasant - the Bulldogs would move from fourth into third position, half-a-game clear of the Blues. However, the Bulldogs have the bye in the final round, meaning they would then be reliant on Colbinabbin beating Mount Pleasant next week to hold onto third. Lose on Saturday, though, and they are headed for the elimination final against either Heathcote or White Hills on August 14.
Lockington-Bamawm United and Colbinabbin head into their clash at Lockington each having lost just one game for the season.
But the Cats are two points ahead with the Grasshoppers having also had a controversial draw against North Bendigo in round 10.
The Grasshoppers inflicted the only loss the Cats have suffered not only this year, but since 2019, when they dominated their round eight match and won by 47 points, 12.9 (81) to 4.10 (34).
Since then Mount Pleasant (lost by 23 points two weeks ago) is the only side to have finished within six goals of the Cats.
A crucial starting point on Saturday for the Grasshoppers is just that - their start.
The Grasshoppers have struggled to get out of the blocks in their four games against White Hills, Heathcote, Leitchville-Gunbower and Huntly since returning from a double-bye.
While the Grasshoppers have won all four matches, they have been outscored a combined 117-141 in the first halves of those games, which included being 27 points down at half-time last week against eighth-placed Huntly.
But they have been able to click into gear after half-time, winning their past four second halves 217-97.
Coach Julian Bull is acutely aware that his side must be much better on Saturday when the heat is on early in the game like the Grasshoppers were against the Cats in round eight when they led 46-12 at half-time.
"Our slow starts this past month are something we've been talking a lot about during the week and I'm obviously hopeful we can rectify it this week," Bull said on Friday.
"We do seem to have been pretty good starting against the top teams, so whether it has been a little bit of a mindset thing as well as a bit of personnel?
"Our starting point on Saturday will be getting our hands on the footy in the midfield and get some good field position."
The Grasshoppers named a starting midfield group of ball magnet Ben Southam, Laine Fitzgerald, Todd Clarke and ruckman Hadleigh Sirett - who is set for an entertaining battle with reigning Cheatley medallist Tyler Phillips - on Thursday night for the big clash.
Meanwhile, Leitchville-Gunbower's Craig Taylor will play his 400th senior grade game for the club on Saturday when the Bombers host White Hills at Gunbower.
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