SOUTH Bendigo coach Jannelle Hobbs is expecting her side to be eager to atone for last week's disappointing defeat at Castlemaine when it tackles another top-five clash on Saturday against Gisborne.
An almost permanent fixture in fourth spot this season behind Kangaroo Flat, Sandhurst and Gisborne, the Bloods dropped to fifth spot after a 27-45 loss to the Magpies.
A follow-up loss would put an end to their already slim hopes of a top-three finish ahead of finals.
They trail third-placed Gisborne by 10 points and fourth-placed Castlemaine by two with four games remaining.
Undoubtedly complicating matters for the Bloods in their bid for the double chance is a round 18 clash against Kangaroo Flat, which will likely need a win to retain top spot.
Hobbs said her side was embracing the challenge of bouncing back against an always tough-to-beat Gisborne.
"We will have to perform better than we did last Saturday, although I feel the scoreline didn't reflect things - we were only five goals down at three quarter time, but the last quarter we didn't execute at all," she said.
"It was an exact reverse of the first time we played them.
"But we've had a good week - we've had a video review and looked at a lot of the game and things we can do better.
"I think the girls really got around that and are working hard to improve those areas.
"I know Gisborne will be tough, they always are. But at home at the QEO, we're looking forward to taking them on."
Hobbs pinpointed Bulldogs star Jordan Cransberg as a real difference maker in the clubs' earlier season contest, won by Gisborne 55-36.
While South Bendigo and Castlemaine are still both outside chances of claiming third spot, the Bloods' coach is more or less convinced there will be no change before finals.
"We've just go to be better and play a good four quarters, which is our main undoing at the moment," she said.
"We play really well in patches, but we need to be more consistent. So going into finals, that's our main focus."
Gisborne coach Tarryn Rymer knows to expect nothing less than a tough battle against South Bendigo or any team coached by Jannelle Hobbs.
"We know that sitting above them on the ladder, they will be eyeing off our spot, so that will be seeing us as the team to beat," she said.
"Hopefully we can put a halt to that and put a good win on the board.
"If we beat South, something very unlikely would have to happen to lose third spot, so this would make things a lot easier for us - not that we expect this to be easy, anything but."
It's a crucial two weeks for the Bulldogs, who host top side Kangaroo Flat the following week, before finishing the home and away season with clashes against Eaglehawk (eighth) and Golden Square (10th).
They will enter this clash in great form following a 47-goal victory over Strathfieldsaye, underpinned by a masterful defensive effort in restricting the Storm to just 14 goals.
Rymer said she had much respect for a strong South Bendigo line-up and identified BFNL open team representatives Chloe Langley and Chloe Gray as obvious keys.
"While we've won our recent matches against them, it's really only half time that we've been able to take a lead," she said.
"So we know we'll need to perform if we want to win.
"Seeing the two Chloes play on the weekend, we know we are going to have to shut down those two on Saturday."
The Bulldogs' own two BFNL representatives - Maddy Stewart and Kirby Elliott - were major factors in a strong team performance at last week's Association Championships in Melbourne.
After a season-best win over South Bendigo, Castlemaine will be eager to follow up with an impressive effort against Kangaroo Flat.
The Magpies skipped past the Bloods into fourth spot, albeit the teams are still on course for an elimination final showdown in the first week of finals.
Kangaroo Flat won the two clubs' earlier season meeting by 16 goals and continued their great season form with a tough win over Kyneton last week.
It will be the first of two matches against top-two opponents for Castlemaine before finals, with a clash against Sandhurst fixtured in round 18.
Fresh from a thrilling one-goal win over Eaglehawk, Maryborough will be chasing back-to-back wins against Strathfieldsaye.
The Magpies trail Kyneton (which plays Golden Square at Wade Street) by two points on the ladder and will have its eyes on leapfrogging the Tigers into sixth spot on the ladder before the end of the season.
At Canterbury Park, Eaglehawk hosts second-placed Sandhurst.
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