The second-third of the home and away season concludes this weekend, with Round 12 headlined by a top-of-table clash between two of the competition’s oldest rivals.
The clash between Greensborough and Heidelberg is arguably the most anticipated game to this point of 2019, with the two powerhouses set to meet for the first time this season in a game that could prove to be a potential grand final preview.
In what shapes as a season-defining round, the battle between the Boro and Tigers isn’t the only game of major significance – with several other matches pitting two sides firmly entrenched in the finals race against one another.
With only one win and minimal percentage separating fourth-placed Bundoora down to ninth-placed Hurstbridge, Round 12 has the ability to completely shake up the ladder as we turn towards the final straight of the 2019 season.
In a campaign that has thrown up so many curveballs, who can be sure of what to expect this weekend?
It would be remiss to begin this week’s preview looking anywhere other than the top-of-the-table match between Heidelberg and Greensborough at Warringal Park.
With an 11-0 record and a percentage well above 200, the Boro have risen to every challenge thus far in 2019. This week they come up against the only side they haven’t faced this campaign and perhaps the one which looms as their major challenger for the flag.
For all their dominance this year, Greensborough enters this week’s game following arguably their best win of the season – a 62-point thrashing of reigning premier West Preston-Lakeside, who entered Sunday’s standalone fixture on a four-game winning streak.
The Roosters threw down a massive challenge early with the first three goals and held the lead the entire first half. What came next was incredible – with the Boro piling on 13 unanswered goals to again demonstrate exactly why they are the benchmark team in 2019.
Frank Raso is sure to have his Heidelberg side hungry to make a massive statement in this week’s fixture, particularly after a disappointing performance at Macleod last week, where the Tigers slumped to just their third defeat of the year.
But if Heidelberg can’t compete with Greensborough this weekend, the question will have to be posed – who exactly can stop the Boro juggernaut?
The star power on show is worth the price of admission alone, with five of the six leading vote winners in the Coaches MVP award set to take the field this week – including leader Sam Gilmore, who is likely to be double teamed in the ruck by Liam Read and Jacob Pickett.
The midfield battle looks a beauty with the likes of Michael Brunelli, Ryan Stone, Lachlan Wilson and Jack Blair to go up against Charlie Molyneux, Tom Bell, Ben Fennell and Chris Clark. One thing is for sure – there won’t be an easy ball to be had in the middle.
With Sam Grimley still sidelined, Heidelberg’s key talls in Chaz Sargeant, Josh Minogue and Christian Buyxk-Smith were well contained at Macleod and combined for just one goal. They’ll be keen to atone this week, but that won’t be an easy task against a Greensborough backline which has conceded more than 10 goals in only one match this year.
It’s unlikely the Tigers will want to make it a shootout in any case, with Greensborough’s tally of 20.14 (134) last week the fifth time this season they have scored above 120 points in a match. With showers expected, conditions don’t like conducive for high scoring.
Macleod and Bundoora meet at De Winton Park where a spot inside the top-five is on the line.
The sides started the year in contrasting style, with Macleod winless over the opening month, while Bundoora won three of its first four games. However, the form lines for both clubs have been reversed since and the Roos will jump ahead of the Bulls on the ladder should they win his week.
Macleod has lost just two of its past seven matches to rise to sixth place on the ladder, while the Bulls are 2-5 over the same period – which includes losses in their past four home games at Yulong Reserve.
Last week’s 29-point win over Heidelberg was Macleod’s best performance under Christian Stagliano and proved the Roos won’t just be making up the numbers in the finals if they manage to claim a top-five spot.
Ahead by 16 points at the main break, they produced outstanding football during the third term to slam on five unanswered goals and take an unassailable 38-point advantage into the last break – with youngster Thomas Scott, Justin White and Kurt Manuel all instrumental in the absence of Lucas Hobbs, Anthony Doherty, Matt Dornauf, Fraser Pope and Chris Long.
Finding consistency now appears the key for Macleod – who has proven in performances against the Tigers and North Heidelberg that it can contend when it brings its A game.
Despite its current standing on the ladder, Bundoora is facing one of its greatest challenges to continue its long streak of final appearances – which dates all the way back to 2001.
Injuries have plagued the Bulls in recent weeks and last week’s home defeat to Northcote Park continued a downward slide that began back in Round 5, when the Bulls were upset by the then winless Macleod.
A loss this week would likely see Bundoora fall outside the top-five for the first time since Round 2, ahead of a tough run home which includes return matches against all of the top-three sides. By comparison, Macleod has already played each of those sides twice.
The Bulls have averaged just 59 points a game since Round 5, better than only Lower Plenty – with the Bears averaging 58 a game in the same period, despite managing just one behind in the Round 10 loss at North Heidelberg.
Despite his side’s struggles, Bailey Thompson continues to be a shining light for the Bulls. The 19-year-old has been a revelation and has played all 11 games. Star duo Daniel Venditti and Matty Dennis are the only Bulls to have polled more Coaches MVP votes in 2019.
The script is almost identical for the match between Northcote Park and Montmorency, where a place in the top half of the ladder is also up for grabs.
Northcote Park will enter with new vigour after last week ending a six-game losing streak, while Montmorency came within a whisker of upsetting North Heidelberg and will be hellbent on atoning this week.
There doesn’t look to be space inside the top-five for both theses sides at season’s end, so this week’s match looms as an early season final for both clubs who have experienced great highs and crushing lows during the year.
It may not have been the prettiest win, but last week’s triumph over Bundoora was arguably Northcote Park’s best in a long time and put it right back in the finals race despite entering the game on the back of six-successive thrashings.
With star forwards Jackson Starcevich and Ash Close sidelined, the Cougars scrapped tooth and nail in the 9.6 (60) to 5.11 (41) win, with the club’s forward pressure particularly noteworthy – with several goals coming from direct turnovers.
Jake Mills’ move forward proved a masterstroke, with the defender booting four goals in the low-scoring triumph – however his move to attack may be short-lived, with Mills a potential match-up for Patrick Fitzgerald, who booted 11 goals when the sides met back in Round 6.
Northcote Park currently sits in fifth spot on 20 points, right in the middle of the logjam of six sides who are competing for the final two places in the top-five. However, a lowly percentage of just 79 leaves the Cougars vulnerable and this week’s match is a must-win as they bid for a return to finals after last year’s eighth-place finish.
Montmorency’s defeat to North Heidelberg can be seen in two lights. The positive was that the Magpies produced their best performance against one of this season’s top-three sides. The negative being that they still weren’t able to claim a victory.
The Magpies looked like being blown off the park early when they trailed by four goals but worked their way back into the contest to lead in the last quarter. They then had chances to win it in a tense final ten minutes, although Jai Robinson’s long-range shot was touched on the goal line, before Patrick Fitzgerald’s set shot from the pocket cannoned into the post.
Montmorency has won just one of its past five matches since smashing Northcote Park by 53 points in Round 6, however the past two performances – a big win over Hurstbridge and the close defeat to North Heidelberg – have shown promising signs as the side begins to take shape under Garry Ramsay.
Stefan Uzelac’s continued improvement provides plenty of excitement for the Magpies, while the likes of Nicholas Paton and Lachlan O’Brien have been able to cement their place in the senior team after showing glimpses in recent seasons.
Montmorency ran rampant the last time the sides met. Patrick Fitzgerald was unstoppable in the 18.10 (118) to 9.11 (65) victory at Montmorency Park, relishing the midfield work of Matthew Hunt and Jesse Donaldson.
North Heidelberg and Hurstbridge go head-to-head at Shelley Reserve in what looms as an intriguing battle.
On paper a clash between the competition’s third and ninth-placed teams would appear straightforward, however that doesn’t appear the case given how tight the competition has been in 2019.
The last match between the sides also dictates this game will be closer than ladder positions suggest, with the Bulldogs triumphant by 18 points at Ben Frilay Oval but only after holding off a last quarter fightback by the Bridges.
North Heidelberg can return to second spot if results go its way this weekend, however the Bulldogs will be exceptionally wary of a Bridges side which still harbours finals ambitions after last week’s 75-point thrashing of Lower Plenty.
After suffering a mid-season lull, the Bulldogs have now won their past two matches and will be desperate to extend that to three ahead of the return of Brent Harvey and Billy Hogan next week for their trip to Greensborough.
Last week’s win was gutsy, with the Bulldogs forced to fight until the end for the three-point win away to Montmorency. Despite not playing their best, the Bulldogs found a way to win and are now looking close to locked in for a top-three finish for the second consecutive year – sitting 10 points clear of fourth-placed Bundoora.
The return of Jesse Tardio will be significant moving into the pointy end of the season. After sitting out the past four matches through injury, the star midfielder sent an immediate reminder that he is one of the competition’s elite players with a best on ground performance against the Magpies.
Hurstbridge produced its most dominant win in the top flight last week, picking up not only the four points but also much-needed percentage to remain in the finals hunt.
If the Bridges are to make the finals they will likely need to win at least five of their final seven games. Given they play all of the top-three sides once again, they will have to claim one or two big scalps along the way.
Cameron Cloke made an immediate impact in his return from injury with five goals last week and has a knack of lifting in the big occasions. Can he be the figure that propels the Bridges up the table in the final stages of the year?
Cooper Perrin also heads to Shelley Reserve in great form and would be in contention to fill a spot in this season’s Team of the Year. The exciting forward booted five goals last week and has now booted multiple goals in six games this year.
Lower Plenty and West Preston-Lakeside will both be desperate to bounce back from heavy defeats when they meet at Montmorency Park South Oval.
The Bears now need to produce something special to avoid relegation, with last week’s loss at Hurstbridge leaving them bottom of the table by eight points and 19 percent.
Given the fact the three sides above them already have four wins to their name, last year’s Division 2 premiers may need as many as four more wins to survive the drop in their first season back in the top flight.
After showing plenty of positives in the upset win over Heidelberg and one-point defeat to Bundoora, the Bears have since struggled – managing just one behind in the loss at North Heidelberg in Round 10, before never being in the hunt at Hurstbridge last week.
The 75-point defeat at Ben Frilay Oval was arguably their most disappointing performance of the year given what was at stake – with the Bears never recovering after conceding the first four goals, despite the best efforts of Leigh Gray and Matt Duckworth.
West Preston-Lakeside was dominant from start to finish when the two sides met in Round 7 – where the Roosters ended their six-game losing streak with a 93-point win at J.E. Moore Park, spearheaded by seven goals to Ahmed Saad.
The reigning premiers have since worked their way right back into finals contention, despite last week’s big defeat to Greensborough, and know a win this week is a non-negotiable ahead of consecutive season-defining home games against Macleod and North Heidelberg.
The Roosters last week provided Greensborough its biggest challenge of the season and led for the entire opening half. But the second half was as disappointing as the first half was promising – conceding 15 goals after the main break to lose by 62 points.
Given how close the race is for a finals place, the magnitude of the final margin may prove telling – with percentage likely to come into calculation when determining fourth and fifth spot at season’s end.
West Preston-Lakeside undoubtably enters this week game as the favourite, although it will be wary of a Lower Plenty side which has certainly played better football at home this campaign.
The Bears’ two wins in 2019 have both come at Montmorency Park South Oval, while the club’s previous home game ended in a one-point defeat. That differs largely to its form on the road – where the club has lost all six games by an average margin of 68 points.