The scene is set for a bumper round of Queen’s Birthday weekend matches.
Reigning senior football premier Phillip Island squares off against the only other unbeaten side of the season so far in Cora Lynn, which has emerged as the biggest threat to the Bulldogs’ crown through the opening eight weeks of the campaign.
The Island has regained big-bodied forward Jack Taylor for the clash in place of developing thirds prospect Daniel Bourke.
Cora Lynn has recalled Luke Hartley from the thirds and welcomes back experienced midfielder Brady White, while Heath Briggs has also been named, following his VFL debut last weekend, but has also been included in Casey Demons’ team as the 23rd player so it remains to be seen if he plays.
The trio replaces Jaxon Briggs – who hasn’t been named for Casey – Brendan Pullen and thirds players Gus Da Costa, who made his senior debut against Garfield last week, and Jay Verhagen, while the Cobras remain without the services of senior regulars Jai Rout and Brayden Weller.
The physical advantage Phillip Island boasts – particularly around stoppages with big and or battled-hardened bodies of the likes of Brendan Kimber, Cam Pedersen, Jarrod Andreatta and Marcus Wright – presents a huge challenge for opposition sides to overcome.
Cora Lynn possesses the speed and skill to hurt the Bulldogs, but the question is whether the Cobras can get their hands on the ball enough to generate sufficient attacking entries for its tall forward line – featuring Nathans Gardiner and Langley and Troy Tharle – to stretch the competition’s most miserly defence, which has conceded less than 35 points per game.
The highly-anticipated clash at the Kennel is far from the only significant matchup of the weekend.
Koo Wee Rup’s revival will be tested with the visit of a Tooradin Dalmore side that continues to grow in confidence.
The Demons offered a timely reminder of the danger it can present on any given day, with a dramatic two-point win away to Inverloch Kongwak last week.
They trailed for all but the final minute of the game, when their fifth goal of the final term – including two to dynamic forward Jason Wells – secured the four points in thrilling fashion.
Wells finished with five for the day, but it was burgeoning brothers Matt and Nathan Voss that stole the show, with the former – and younger of the two – named his side’s best player for the third time in just 10 senior games.
Nick Prowd returns for the Demons for tomorrow’s visit of Tooradin Dalmore, alongside Sean Alexander also called up for his first senior game of the season, with Cody Miller, Luke Glassborow making way.
Just four points separates seventh-placed Nar Nar Goon from fourth-placed Inverloch Kongwak as both sides scramble for solid footing in the race for the top five.
The Sea Eagles have now lost three of their last four games and will be missing gun recruit Brendan Iezzi for tomorrow’s trip to Nar Nar Goon, along with Stuart Kilsby, while Dan Houston will line up in the reserves.
However, they are bolstered by the inclusion of Adam Cross, Rowan Clark and Josh Purcell, who made a successful come back in the reserves last week.
At the other end of the ladder, Warragul Industrials will be eying off a maiden win of the campaign when fellow strugglers Kilcunda Bass comes to town.
The Panthers will be without the talented Shelton Rosario but Dale Crawford plays his first senior game in 18 months, having made it through two reserves games.
Ninth-placed Korumburra Bena hosts eight-placed Garfield, with Lucas Dohnt coming back into the Giants’ side in place of Will Little.
In amongst all that, Dalyston travels to Bunyip and while the Bulldogs have been quietly impressive and the Magpies struggled to date, the gap between the two sides is closer than their record suggests.
The A Grade netball contest also holds plenty of promise, with the Yips desperate for a major scalp to back up their strong early season form and the reigning premier would be quite the catch.
The other standout fixture of the round is Inverloch Kongwak’s trip to Nar Nar Goon, with one game separating the two sides and a place in the top five.
Goalers Olivia Cope and Meg Evans traded clubs this season and while both have performed well in greener pastures it will be fascinating to see which is able to have the bigger impact for their new team on the day.