LAST weekend featured many interesting elements in the Central Highlands FL, top of the table clashes, the introduction of a former AFL champion into the competition and the top eight becoming a very close tussle with at least ten clubs in with strong chance of finals actions. There was massive interest in the recruitment of Nick Del Santo to play for Hepburn this year and his first opportunity to get on the ground came last week in an important game against Beaufort who was sitting one win ahead of the Burras on the ladder. Beaufort were coming off their first defeat of the season the weekend before and now had to show if that was a minor slip up or were they going to struggle again against Hepburn, probably the club sitting just behind Springbank in the best form over the past six weeks. In a tight defensive match where scores were tight throughout Hepburn controlled the second half enough to finish on top by an even two goals. Andy McKay is showing excellent form this year, as has been the case for the past twelve years since he joined the competition and there has rarely been a week during that time when he has been beaten by his opponent.
Another bonus for Hepburn is the form of Segifili Aa Leausa he adds strength and experience into the Burras backline. Despite this great win over Beaufort though, Hepburn never moved up the ladder any further than they were at the start of the day. They remain sixth but now on equal points with four other teams who have suffered two defeats.
After a tough run over the past two weeks it gets no easier for Hepburn this week when they have the very tough task of facing league leader Springbank at Wallace.
In recent weeks Hepburn has shown enough good form to suggest that they have a strong chance to get a rare win over the Tigers and potentially if Beaufort can rebound against Waubra the top six in the competition will all be on the same points.
A feature clash next week will be in the ruck where Hepburn’s Michael Watt and Springbank’s Brock Freeman are both in excellent form. Each club has a super mix of midfielders who can take advantage of the outcome of the ruck contests if their man takes control in this key battle.
Who will win the forward line contests is also an interesting part of this match where neither team appears to have a dominant key forward at the moment. Springbank still has the league’s leading goal kicker, Tom Eltringham, but he has not played since round 5 and if still out the responsibility in front of goal will fall across a range of small targets led by Bill Driscoll, Nick Couch and Tyler George. Hepburn meanwhile has a similar structure in their forward line with the elusive Andy McKay often the main goal kicker for the club, however they have a good spread across their forward line of others such as Arons Burns, Jacob Brown and Bradley McKay who are all chipping in most matches. Whilst both clubs are scoring often enough in this manner each will be looking across their lists and attempting to find a player who can take a number of marks inside the forward 50 and set up easy shots at goal. If Nick Del Santo is available again this week he may prove to be a vital component even if he is still getting used to the massive change in the type of football he has come into compared to his career at AFL in recent years. Del Santo might not dominate with possessions but there is no way that Michael Searl will be prepared to let him run free and he will have to sacrifice one of his best mid fielders to try to quell his influence. Meanwhile 40 minutes west along the Western Freeway Beaufort will be desperately trying to find a way to ensure that they do not suffer three successive defeats when they come up against now second placed Waubra.
Who is going to kick the goals for the Crows is also starting to look like a bit of a problem for coach Rohan Brown.
Lachlan Murray and Jack Duke have consistently been the contributors with three or four each week and last week were responsible for seven of the Crows eight goals.
Few teams will be able to consistently win the big games if the opposition is able to put most of its defensive focus into two players. On top of this Beaufort has to this week overcome the choking flooding defence which Waubra is very competent at performing. The Kangaroos also are getting better each week at rebounding from these deep defensive positions and setting up scoring opportunities. Tim Boyle has been in excellent form playing across the whole forward line and there have been few defenders who can run with him for long periods of time. A problem he creates for backmen at this level of competition is his running power combined with his height meaning that he is able to get into space often for uncontested marks. However often this can take him a long way from goal and Beaufort need to be ready for the next kick where he sets up a team mate for a shot at goal. If Beaufort is going to look towards the second half of the season with any confidence they need to bounce back this week and defeat another opponent who sits above them on the ladder. Learmonth were not able to match it with Springbank, their first real test since round one.
Whilst the margin of 43 points was not excessive Springbank controlled the game throughout and gradually broke down the Lakies resistance.
This week they need to bounce back against Newlyn and keep themselves close to the top of the ladder. If they are going to struggle to defeat those in the top eight then to make finals they need to ensure that they defeat all those who sit outside the eight. Newlyn meanwhile will be seeing this game as a real opportunity for them as they come of the bye and a win over Clunes. Currently sitting just a game behind a group on the edge of the eight Gordon, Buninyong and Daylesford it is vital to win to remain within reach of this group. Newlyn and Learmonth are similar sides in that both are lacking in height across the ground but posses very strong midfields. Matthew Bond gives Learmonth an advantage up forward in this scenario because he is a strong player who is not easily shifted off the marking contest. Newlyn’s biggest defender Dan Hammond is likely to get Bond which might create an opportunity for Todd Curran who has played as the second tall forward very effectively in a few matches including a bag of 12 goals against Skipton in round three.
Learmonth look to have more depth across the ground and probably will be too strong.
Dunnstown are yet to record a win but this week against Rokewood Corindhap who have just the one win the Towners appeal as the more in form of the two.
Despite going down to Waubra by 43 points last week they were competitive against Hepburn in their last home game and if they can find a similar approach to this week they will get their first win of the year. Rokewood Corindhap on the other hand have also shown good form against some of the higher ranked teams but in one which they would have been expected to get a win on Saturday against Ballan they never really got into the contest and fell 24 points short. It is now a couple of months since their good win over Newlyn and they look to be a long way off the promising form of that stage of the season.
Ballan though could give their season another boost when they host the winless Skipton who at this stage of the year look as though it will be difficult for them to break their drought. In a couple of matches they were starting to show an improved ability to score and it appeared that they might be able to get a win against others at the lower end of the ladder. In the last 10 quarters that they have played though they have lost their way again and are unlikely to upset Ballan. Buninyong who put Skipton the sword last week will continue their wining form against Creswick, Gordon will make it a tough day for Carngham Linton at Linton and Bungaree might not be dominating all opponents but they keep on winning to sit fourth on the ladder and will at least hold this position by defeating Clunes.