AT this point of the season, each game carries extra weight, but tomorrow’s contest between East and South Gambier at McDonald Park stands out from the rest in round 15 of Western Border football.
After two disappointing losses to North and Casterton Sandford, the Bulldogs need a win to bounce back into form.
If East slumps to a third consecutive defeat, it faces a tough ask against West at Malseed Park next round and could appear vulnerable during finals.
Although the Demons have struggled to match the Bulldogs in 2019, they have fought hard to maintain their finals dreams.
South’s list has started to gel and recent results have shown it is heading in the right direction.
The Demons have won three of their last four games and have the ability to battle anyone on their day.
South will need to continue this improvement if it is to push for a finals berth, with a round 16 clash against Casterton Sandford likely to decide which team makes the top four.
Since his return from injury, Brett O’Neil has been in irresistible form.
The 200-game milestone has seen him reach a new level and he is a vital asset to South’s game.
Jack Tentye and Bronson Saffin have also been consistent contributors this year and are the engine room through the middle.
The trio were well supported by Nick Tarca who produced a best-on-ground performance last week.
The young brigade has been one of the major standouts of the 2019 campaign and last week was another example.
Kaleb Bowd played an impressive tagging role in the backline and shut down his opponent in the second half, which helped turn the game to his team’s favour.
He is joined by the likes of Todd Reid, Alex Harkness and Brock Keding, who all carry solid form into the clash.
Up forward, Brayden Kain has returned to his exciting best.
After a lean patch of three goalless games in four weeks, Kain responded with 12 majors in his previous three matches – a dangerous sign for any opposing defender.
South will turn to each of these players to lead their assault against the strong Bulldogs line-up.
Last week, East was strengthened by the return of classy playing coach Matt Willson.
His composure and accurate left foot would be a welcome addition to any team and he will be determined to put his injury behind him and stamp some authority on the competition.
However, injury struck another key Bulldog last round, in the form of the club’s leading goal scorer Kev Thompson.
Thompson will leave a major hole in East’s forward line as he has kicked 11 more goals than his nearest team mate in 2019.
But one man who appears set to take his place is Giancarlo Cooper.
Cooper’s unpredictable movements make him a nightmare for defenders and his three goals at Island Park proved he has the ability to change the course of a match.
Other players in good form include Shem Balshaw down back, while John Forster, Jack Dawe and Jayden Eldridge are always hard to stop from pushing up the ground.
With East looking for a big win to restart its finals assault, tomorrow looms as a major test for South.
In home conditions, the Bulldogs will start as deserved favourites, but they will be in for a challenge against a driven Demons side.