WITH three games to cast an eye over this weekend, we look at some of the key players in each game and a number of crucial match-ups that could decide the contest.
DANDENONG STINGRAYS v. BENDIGO PIONEERS
Round 12 – Saturday, July 21, 1pm
Shepley Oval, Dandenong
In the first game of the round, top-of-the-table Dandenong Stingrays take on the last placed Bendigo Pioneers at home in what on face value appears to be a one-sided contest. Given the Stingrays’ big inclusions such as Bailey Williams, Zac Foot and Jake Frawley among others, it will be a tough ask for the smaller Pioneers, who have lost talented bottom-age tall Brodie Kemp to school football. However, Josh Grace will be a welcome inclusion against Williams and Stephen Cumming who are likely to cause the defence all sorts of headaches. In the midfield, both teams pride themselves on contested ball and Noah Wheeler and Hunter Lawrence will go head-to-head with the likes of Sam Fletcher and Campbell Hustwaite on the inside. Jacob Atley and Liam Marciano provide good run and carry out of the Pioneers defence, while Zac Foot and Jai Taylor provide the same for the Stingrays. Dandenong will deservedly head in as very strong favourites, but with nothing to lose, the Pioneers should throw everything at the ladder leaders and test themselves against the benchmark team.
MURRAY BUSHRANGERS v. EASTERN RANGES
Round 12 – Sunday, July 22, 1pm
Deakin Reserve, Shepparton
In the first of two Sunday games occurring at the same time, the fourth placed Murray Bushrangers take on the eleventh placed Eastern Ranges at Shepparton. Murray will also be strong favourites in this clash with Jacob Koschitzke returning to the defence after a huge last couple of months for the GWS GIANTS and Allies. But it is Murray’s attack which is unbelievably diverse given it contains competition leading goal kicker Hudson Garoni, the X-factor in Zane Barzen, as well as talented bottom-agers Lachlan Ash and Jye Chalcraft while Jordon Butts has shown he can kick a bag, and Bailey Frauenfelder often chips in with scoreboard pressure. The midfield duo of Ely Smith and Kyle Clarke will go head-to-head with Kye Quirk and Lachlan Stapleton, while Eastern will look to release Joel Burleigh and Mitch Mellis on the wings. James Blanck will be the man Eastern turns to in order to restrict Garoni, while Ben Cardamone and Adrian Kalcovski will look to continue their good form. Murray will be keen to take back third spot with victory here, while Eastern can gain some breathing space from Bendigo should they get up.
GIPPSLAND POWER v. WESTERN JETS
Round 12 – Sunday, July 22, 1pm
Morwell Football Ground, Morwell
Over at Morwell, the Gippsland Power and Western Jets do battle in what is expected to be the clear match of the weekend. The Power sits second and could pull away from its closest rivals with a win, while a victory to Western would see them regain a top four spot, and be one of three sides potentially on 32 points – with Oakleigh two points behind. A win to the Jets would also mean the Stingrays would be a massive 12 points clear on top if they defeat Bendigo. Both respective captains in Xavier Duursma and Xavier O’Halloran return to their sides, along with a host of talented inclusions such as Sam Flanders and Matthew McGannon (Gippsland) and Emerson Jeka and Buku Khamis (Western). Kyle Reid is another big inclusion for the Power and will settle the defence along with McGannon. The midfield battle will be intriguing with O’Halloran, Connor Thar and Jack Watkins taking on Duursma, Flanders and Harold Hood. Stefan Radovanovic and Daly Andrews will break open the game with their pace, while the Power will look to Tyrone Hayes and Irving Mosquito to do the same at either end. This game is hard to pick, with the home ground advantage going to Gippsland, but Western have been very good with their best side on the park. Expect it to be a thriller.