Round 8 in the Central Highlands FL has the potential to shape the ladder for a number of weeks, with the opportunity for some to skip away from their closest chasers and four of the top six sides set to test each other out.
The most enticing clash is without doubt between one and two, Springbank and Learmonth.
Springbank are coming off a very good win over the other previously undefeated side in Beaufort and now sit alone in top spot but they will need to be very focused if they are to ensure that they retain this position on the ladder. Learmonth after running out of steam in the initial match against Waubra have not really been tested since. They had the most favourable draw of all clubs in the league over the next six rounds.
Apart from Waubra the Lakies have not encountered another club in the top eight to this stage of the season.
So the question is do they belong in this prime position on the ladder or are they just warming the position for others to catch up? Two of their forwards Matthew Bond and Brodrick Campbell are sitting just behind the competition leader Springbank’s Tom Eltringham as the leading goal kickers in the senior competition. The Learmonth pair are an interesting duo as they provide the Lakies with contrasting targets.
Bond provides the strong body at many contests which gives opposition defenders a headache. Particularly as Learmonth are generally able to leave plenty of space in the forward line for him to move into.
Whilst Brodrick Campbell keeps the small defenders focused on their task as he very quickly pounces on any crumbs that fall in the forward fifty. The difference this week though is that the Springbank defence will be far more capable of both limiting opportunities and shutting down each of these key forwards. Samuel Cue is in very good form again this season and should be first choice opponent for Brodrick Campbell and his close checking is sure to limit Campbell’s influence on the game. The other difficulty facing the Lakies is that they lack height across most of the ground whereas Springbank can call on a number of tall players that could turn the game their way.
Brock Freeman after a slow start to the season is now stacking up a number of strong performances in the ruck and key midfielders Nic Couch, Joel Maher and Bill Driscoll are really benefiting from it.
In addition to Freeman coach Michael Searl adds enormous flexibility to Springbank and is a dangerous player whichever end of the ground he places himself.
Matthew Tyler and Peter Lewis will also stretch Learmonth’s lack of height. The key for Learmonth will be to take control of the midfield under the leadership of Scott Whiting, Richard Zelencich and probably the most important small in the league Brenton Powell. If Learmonth can conjure up a win it will be an enormous boost to their season and put them squarely in the mix for serious finals action.
Meanwhile another key clash will be happening at Hepburn with Beaufort travelling to face another top eight rival. Beaufort has a good percentage and successive losses will probably not mean that they drop down the ladder very far but they surely will be joined by a number of clubs on six wins.
Hepburn had to work very hard last week to overcome winless Dunnstown getting home by just 20 points after leading by more than five goals at stages in the second quarter.
Brad McKay probably had his best game for the season for Hepburn and the speed and class he adds both through the middle of the ground and forward and his strong game was a bonus on top of the strong performances by the team in general up to this point of the season. The Burras have defeated Buninyong and Gordon already this season and would love to add a further top eight side to their list of victories.
Finn Anscombe and Daniel Rees who are also coming off strong performances will add to a broad number of Hepburn players who are having strong seasons.
Probably Hepburn’s biggest concern in planning this week will be who they send to Beaufort’s key player Jake Duke who is coming off two rounds of five goals in each.
Duke is a difficult player to match up on as he has the ability to draw his defender into the midfield or then isolate him deep forward. Either Rees or Anscombe could be sent to Duke at different stages. Brendan Howard also showed good form last week against Springbank and he adds some class to Beaufort.
Both clubs appear to be evenly matched in many areas across the ground however Beaufort probably looks to have more depth and it is usually a side’s depth which determines the result when the best teams face up to each other. Rokewood Corindhap put a scare through Buninyong last week pushing them to the finish and from this they should have gained a great deal of confidence for this week when they host Ballan.
The Blues have just the one win and were soundly defeated by Waubra on Saturday so they will be less likely to be coming down to the Western Plains with the same confidence in their form.
Ben Reese is having a really strong season for the Grasshoppers and is enjoying the greater depth of talent across the ground to help him.
The one dilemma for Rokewood Corindhap coach Jarrod Thompson is that despite their improved form they have just one win the same as Ballan. So even though there will be confidence on the back of last week’s form there will be plenty of expectation on them to get a win at home. Ballan will be looking towards Darren Tanti and Jason McNamara to get early control of the football in the middle and utilise Jacob Wilkinson and Austin Bongart’s strong rebound out of the key defensive positions.
Clunes will host Daylesford and this is one of those matches where the middle sides on the ladder need to find another level to ensure that they stray in the race for finals action. With two wins Clunes will be able to move onto equal points with the Bulldogs and stay in touch with the bottom of the eight. Jesse Baird came back into form against Newlyn last week after a couple of quite weeks and whilst no team relies on one player alone he is vital for the overall performance of the Magpies.
Also Khyal and Joshua Thompson are giving the Magpies some momentum on a weekly basis. Unless Daylesford lose concentration though it is unlikely that Clunes will have enough winners to overcome the Bulldogs. Newlyn were disappointed to lose to Carngham Linton a couple of weeks ago so they will be feeling better that they held on against Clunes last week. Newlyn has the bye this week which will put them amongst those on the edge of the eight and whilst they are not performing as well as they would hope they are hanging around the eight as the season nears the half way point.
Another in the middle of the ladder log jam is Creswick who may look back on their early season loss to Clunes ruefully at the end of the year and they will know that they must have an impact against a few more of the higher placed clubs. Their round six win over Daylesford was a bonus that they would love to repeat against Gordon but it is hard to see this occurring. Gordon was without new recruit Tm Langford last week but it made no difference as they smashed Skipton by an even 200 points.
In recent years the Eagles have been inclined to score easily against sides low on the ladder and to combat this Creswick’s defence must be on task from the very start.
Ryan Pompe, Liam and Aaron Hepworth will be keys in this as they provide the experience through the backline.
Each of them has been featuring in their better players in recent weeks. At the other end of the ground Clinton Robinson has been in good form also and he will need to be at his best against the league’s best stopper in Mark Gunnell.
Dunnstown were much better last week against Hepburn but they are still to find a way to get their initial win of the season and it is very unlikely that they will be strong enough to get this first victory against Waubra.
Rhys Cahir has been in vintage form in the past couple of weeks and is bringing some of the young players along with. Mitchell Kennedy, Ben Collins and Daniel Harbour all had good periods against the Burras.
The Towners struggled to find a reliable scoring option close to goal otherwise they might have stolen a victory.
A similar scoring problem appears to await them against the Kangaroos. Skipton fell away this week after a competitive effort against Bungaree in round six and even if they bounce back this week it is hard to see how they will come close to upsetting Buninyong.
A similar fate probably awaits Carngham Linton against Bungaree this week. The Demons continue to roll along quietly sitting fifth on the ladder. Expect Bungaree ruckman Dave Benson to have another field day and set up Matthew Sheridan and Chase Morgan to control the middle of the ground.