MC Labour Division 2 contenders Thomastown and Eltham meet in an early-season blockbuster at Main Street Reserve on Saturday.
The two teams got off to fast starts in the MC Labour Division 2 premiership race, winning their opening matches on Good Friday to begin the season on the front foot.
Thomastown coach Mario Bandera was rapt with how his side performed against Epping after returning from a long lay-off.
“It ticked a lot of boxes for us and re-affirmed a few things we thought we were tracking well in,” Bandera said to NFNL.org.au.
“We started off a bit slow, but after half time we made some adjustments. I was surprised by how quickly the game turned – in the space of 15 minutes we kicked six or seven goals.”
The Bears romped to a 93-point win over the Blues, with new recruits Tyrone Leonardis (five goals), Joel Carter and Michael Tang all starring.
“We’re the first to admit we’re lucky to have players of the calibre of Ty (Leonardis) – he is just class and uses the footy so well,” Bandera said.
“Joel (Carter) is a completely different ruckman from the one we recruited a few months ago. Even though he’s 26, he’s a bit of a sponge, the way he adapts and listens and learns.
“The player I was most impressed with was Michael Tang. We played him forward in the second half and he was really impressive at stoppages and down forward.”
But the challenge does not get much tougher than this week, where Thomastown takes on Eltham, who accounted for a young St Mary’s side by 46 points on Good Friday.
New Eltham coach Robert Hyde kept a lid on his side’s performance, instead choosing to discuss the areas his side can improve on going into their blockbuster clash against the Bears.
“We played alright – we played some good footy, but we can touch up on a few things,” Hyde told NFNL.org.au.
“I think some of our structures up forward got lost a few times, meaning we had too many forwards high up the ground and we ended up just kicking it straight to the opposition.
“There’s always going to be a few things to work on this early in the season, so we will tighten those areas up.”
Hyde was particularly excited by the performances of midfield pair Ben Montanaro and Brent Macaffer, with the former scoring 10 votes in the Coaches MVP voting and the latter excellent in his return from a hamstring issue, with three goals.
Asked about how his side will quell Macaffer’s influence, Bandera backed in his own star-studded midfield to match the Panthers’.
“I think one way or another we will put time and effort into a lot of their players – it would be stupid not to put time into Macaffer or into Anton Woods,” Bandera said.
“It’ll be a great battle between our midfield and theirs. They have a group that’s been the benchmark of the competition for a few years, but we believe our midfield is their equal.”
Hyde and his Eltham side are also wary of Thomastown’s weapons.
With Leonardis, Anthony Capeci and Kane Slater all threatening to be “pretty damaging across the board”, Hyde is interested to “see where we (Eltham) sit against another strong side”.
Facing such an even team, Bandera narrowed down his side’s key focus if they are to come away from Saturday with a 2-0 start to the year.
“We’ve got to be really good defensively,” Bandera said.
“That’ll be a key message to be better defensively. If we aren’t then they will easily slice and dice us open and make it hard for our defence.
“We’d like to think a bit more midfield pressure on their forward entries might stifle their effectiveness to hit the scoreboard.”
On the flip side, Hyde believes his side are coming up against one of the flag fancies on Saturday, giving him an early chance to evaluate where Eltham sits in the premiership race.
“We expect to make finals and see how deep we can go,” Hyde said.
“A game like this against one of the big favourites to win the flag is big – their midfield is super and they have some good goal kickers.
“We have to be really hard at the contested footy and first to the ball. We have to bring constant pressure to Thomastown or else we’ll struggle to hold them.”
Both coaches are equally excited about the upcoming match. With such star power across both teams, Hyde and Bandera are willing to let some of the best players in the league go head-to-head.
“In some areas we’ll go against them directly and make it a little contest for those who are coming to watch,” Bandera chuckled.
Thomastown hosts Eltham this Saturday from 2.10pm at Main Street Recreation Reserve.