While most eyes are on the race for the minor premiership and the top five, round 15 was an important one for teams jostling for position at the other end of the ladder.
Kilcunda Bass hosted Dalyston knowing a win would go a long towards avoiding the wooden spoon and it was the Panthers that emerged with the all-important four points.
The Panthers welcomed back key position star and leader Taylor Gibson and his four goals proved decision in the 13.5 (83) to 11.9 (75) win.
Gibson, along with Shelton Rosario and playing coach Damien Holmes, ensured the home side didn’t allow Dalyston to get a run on at any stage.
The Magpies had three key inclusions of their own in Tyler Osbaldeston, Brad Fisher and Dean Wilson, while Jy Hull was given his senior debut, but they couldn’t apply enough scoreboard pressure to turn the game in their favour.
Top liners Clay Tait, Ryan Silver and Kurt Thomas were best for Dalyston.
The Magpies’ A Grade side proved too strong on the netball court, though, winning 64-17.
Phillip Island once again proved a match for Koo Wee Rup in the second grand final rematch of the season.
The Demons started brightly – leading at quarter-time and within one straight kick at the main change but succumbed to the Island’s relentless pressure in the second half to fall 12.13 (85) to 8.5 (53).
Alex Duyker, Cam Pedersen and Zak Vernon starred for the Bulldogs, with Mitch Cammarano, Caleb Milojevic and 17-year-old Kalin Parker catching the eye for Koo Wee Rup.
The Bulldogs went into the game without three premiership players in Hayden Bruce, Will Van Diemen and Alex Redmond, but regained Jordan Patullo, who played his first senior game since round three, while young guns Mitch Moschetti and Noah Bee-Hickman earned another chance to impress.
The Demons lost Sean Alexander and Nathan Voss, but they were replaced by senior regulars Rory Connelly and Milojevic.
Koo Wee Rup’s A Grade side kept in touch with the top five via a 40-27 win against Phillip Island.
Mariah Bell did the bulk of the scoreboard damage with 33 goals as the Demons maintained seventh spot, one game behind fifth-placed Bunyip, which shored up its position with a 63-29 win against Garfield.
The home side actually trailed by two goals at quarter time but recovered with a stunning 21-goals second term to get the game back on their terms.
Jasmin Mackie converted 54 goals to lead the Yips to victory, with Corinne Merrigan slotting 25 for the visiting Stars.
Bunyip Football Club celebrated its past players day and stalwart Robbie Hughes’ 300th game with a 34-point win against their great rivals.
The Bulldogs, sporting specially-designed old-style jumpers featuring the names of past premiership players and complete with traditional red shorts and hooped socks, led at every change but needed a strong final term to finish the job against the stubborn Stars.
Cley Bertoncello made it 16 goals in three matches with another four in the 7.13 (55) to 5.6 (36) win, while Jye Keath, and 2012 premiership stars Michael Whyte and Brad Wolfe were fittingly excellent.
Hughes marked his big day with a goal.
Darcy Helmore, Rhys Murphy and James McKellar continued their good form for Garfield, which is now mathematically out of the finals race.
Cora Lynn bounced back from its first defeat of the campaign with a well-earned win against Nar Nar Goon.
The Cobras went into the game without co-captain Jackson Dalton and ruckman Billy Thomas, but still had enough quality to see off a Goon side scrapping for a finals spot.
Troy Tharle, Brady White and Ryan Spierings were among a host of strong contributors, with Jake Smith, Trent Noy, Sam Blackwood best for the Goon, who showed good spirit produce an eight-goal-to-none final quarter, having managed just one major for the game to that point.
Nar Nar Goon’s A Grade side had to work hard to shake a persistent Cobras outfit on the netball court, eventually triumphing 45-33.
Olivia Cope (17 goals), Hollie Keysers (15) and Anna Robertson (13) shared the scoring load for the victorious visitors.
The match was dedicated to raising awareness of mental health, with support from Mindfull Australia.
Inverloch Kongwak’s A Grade side produced the biggest shock of the round, downing third-placed Korumburra Bena 50-39.
The pair could hardly be separated until the final term, when the Sea Eagles surged clear with 15 goals to eight to record a vital win in their quest for a top five spot.
It was smoother sailing for the visitors on the footy oval.
Toby Mahoney bagged a handful and was joined by Brendan Iezzi and Shem Hawking in the best for the Sea Eagles, who welcomed back talented silky defender Lewis Rankin.
Skipper Ben Fitzpatrick was a clear standout for the Giants, along with Jordan Hill and Zach Walker, who stepped up in the absence of young leader Bailey Patterson, who was called up for the third and final game of the Young Guns Series at Avalon Airport Oval in Werribee.
The series gives players aged 22 years and under the chance to further develop their game and showcase their skills in front of AFL recruiters.
Patterson represented the victorious Country side, with Collingwood’s VFL-listed Dalyston star Michael Marotta lining up, and named best, for the City team.
Tooradin Dalmore rounded out the weekend with a comfortable senior-A Grade double away to Warragul Industrials.
Andrew Dean was unstoppable with eight goals – taking his season tally to 51 – and Julian Suarez four, with Kris Sabbatucci and Adam Galea also figuring heavily in the 20.14 (134) to 4.4 (28) win.
Usual suspects Shane Brewster, Will Gibson and Tyson Bale were best for the Dusties.
Runaway A Grade ladder leader Tooradin-Dalmore took the points on the netball court, 66-33.
So, to round 16.
Third meets sixth at Tooradin as the well-placed Seagulls host a desperate Koo Wee Rup side in the midst of the toughest of runs home but very much still in the finals picture.
With Bunyip likely to defeat Kilcunda Bass, the Demons will be desperate to win and set up a mouth-watering head-to-head showdown with the Bulldogs in round 17.
Nar Nar Goon must defeat Garfield to keep its ever-fading finals hopes alive, while Inverloch Kongwak and Cora Lynn’s emerging rivalry will continue with both sides searching for valuable momentum as the post-season approaches.
Dalyston and Korumburra Bena meet, with the A Grade netball match promising to be particularly intriguing given the tense rivalry that has developed in recent years.
In the final matchup of the round, Warragul Industrials makes the long trek to Cowes to take on Phillip Island.
The game is dedicated to the Orange Round initiative, which aims to promote gender equality and to prevent violence against women and girls.
The initiative began in 2015 as a partnership between Gippsland Women’s Health, Gippsland Centre Against Sexual Assault, GippSport, AFL Gippsland, Netball Victoria and this year has partnered with the Change for Sam Committee,which was established following the tragic death of Samantha Fraser last year.
All patrons are invited to wear something orange in support of the initiative and you can read more about it on page 13 of this week’s Barracker.