Is it a five horse race for the flag in the 2021 HDFNL season, or will the true contenders separate themselves from the pack in the run home to September action?
After a 12-month hiatus, high-quality HDFNL action has returned in 2021 with five squads setting their sights on a premiership tilt.
Despite a mid-season pause due to a COVID-19 related lockdown in June, the league and clubs have managed the season and its challenges admirably.
But with uncertainty at every turn once again, an already tense run to the finals has gone up another level.
The Stawell Times-News runs their eyes over the competition.
10 wins, 0 losses, 40 points, 301.54 per cent
Is it possible for an undefeated side to be underrated? The Bombers have had an outstanding 2021 season so far and they clearly sit at the top of the HDFNL tree.
Led by a powerful midfield and a rock-solid backline, the Bombers have been an impossible nut to crack, conceding an average of just 32.4 points across the first 10 games of the season.
Around the ground, Zachary Kelly, Jack Vague and Thomas Magee have had stellar seasons, with Dylan Bushby's 27 goals leading the way up forward.
But that is the remaining question mark on the Bombers, who have scored considerably less than other contenders, such as Rupanyup and Kalkee.
Do they have the scoring power to win the big finals against the other contenders?
Next match: Kalkee (away)
9 wins, 1 loss, 36 points, 256.28 per cent
Sitting second on the ladder with just one blemish on their record, Rupanyup have created a dangerous squad in 2021, with just one thing on their mind.
The Panthers announced their premiership credentials with 72-point thumping of Harrow-Balmoral in round two. But a six-goal defeat in round seven at the hands of the Bombers showed there was still work to be done.
Coach Jack Musgrove has led the way up forward, booting 47 goals so far in the season with Mitchell Gleeson and Blake Turner, just two players who have turned in great seasons for the Panthers.
After some time apart in a changeable season, can the Panthers truly click at the right time of year to take this talented team to the top?
Next match: Jeparit Rainbow (home)
8 wins, 2 losses, 32 points, 190.14 per cent
In the opening ten games of the season, Kalkee have stumbled just twice so far, giving them a red hot go at clinching an all important top-three finish.
In 2019 Kalkee missed the finals, but with some key recruitments and internal development, they are shaping as a premiership challenger if they can fire in September.
In his nine games up forward, Jayden Kuhne has been lively bagging 28 goals, while Deek Roberts and Simon Hobbs have led the way through the midfield.
When the season resumes Kalkee will host the undefeated Noradjuha Quantong, giving every one a September preview.
Next match: Noradjuha Quantong (home)
8 wins, 2 losses, 32 points, 185.66 per cent
Are the Storm a true premiership contender in 2021?
With just two losses to their name it would be hard to make a case against them, but doubts linger.
The Storm recorded a narrow loss to Kalkee in round two and fell 40 points short against the Bombers in round five.
But the highlight of the season so far would be a stirring win against the reigning premiers in round four.
Peter Weir kicked five goals in a best on ground display as the Storm overcame a 15-point half-time deficit to win by 19 points.
Next up the Storm travel to Rupanyup for the season resumption. Can they recreate some of that round five skill to take down the Panthers and truly assert themselves in the 2021 HDFNL premiership conversation?
Next match: Rupanyup (away)
7 wins, 3 losses, 28 points, 200.00 per cent
Harrow Balmoral are the dark horse who are thundering toward the finish line in 2021.
After starting the season slowly thanks to a sweep of key injuries, the Roos have looked better and better as players have returned to their line-up.
Their last month of football has been eye-catching with crushing wins over Laharum, Edenhope-Apsley and Taylors Lake combined with a clinical 31-point win over Kalkee.
Coach Nick Pekin has led the way on his return from injury, with 10 goals in four games while Ethan Appleton has been a consistent contributor throughout the season.
The Roos are also the side which has come closest to defeating the Bombers, with a 1-point loss in round six arguably the match of the season.
With a healthy squad and momentum on their side, the Roos are a side nobody wants to face in September.
Next match: Swifts (away)
5 wins, 5 losses, 20 points, 145.02
It has been an up-and-down, kind of season for the Swifts in 2021, but their eyes are still firmly set on a finals place.
The Swifts have easily accounted for most sides below them in 2021, but against fellow finals challengers the young squad have fallen short.
Their round ten loss to Natimuk United may best summarise their season, going down by four points despite creating an 18 extra scoring shots.
Captain Scott Carey has led from the front, while Todd Mathews' return to the forward line has been exciting to watch adding 34 goals so far.
The Swifts host the Roos in their next clash, where they will need to cause an upset to keep their hopes of finals on track.
Next match: Harrow Balmoral (home)
5 wins, 5 losses, 20 points, 87.10 per cent
After losing some quality players between 2019 and 2021, the Rams started the season slowly, but they are now well and truly in the hunt for a top-six spot.
A dramatic win over the Swifts in round 10 was a highlight which has given the Rams a platform to push towards September.
With their season on the line, Samuel Anson and Callum Cameron stood up to the challenge, while Nathan Koenig has been the target up forward with 34 goals in the season.
The remainder of the Rams' season firmly rest in their hands, if they can hold their nerve and win games against beatable opposition.
Next match: Pimpinio (away)
Kaniva Leeor United
2 wins, 8 losses, 8 points, 73.05 per cent
The HDFNL newcomers have had a challenging 2021 season, with COVID-19 border rules and a senior coaching change making things tricky.
The Cougars best performance of 2021 came against Edenhope Apsley with a 52-point round four win, marking their first victory in the league.
However in round seven the Cougars turned in a disappointing performance as they lost to Pimpinio at home by 25 points.
In the run home Kanvia will be looking to stay ahead of the pack at the bottom of the ladder, with a match-up against Laharum waiting in the wings.
Next match: Laharum (away)
2 wins, 8 losses, 8 points, 39.63 per cent
After a disappointing 2019 season, Laharum has shown some signs of improvement on their road to two wins so far.
After a big loss to Edenhoe Apsley in round 1, Laharum have been on a steady incline, with a 20-point win over Pimpinio in round six their best.
Tom Crawford has been the standout player for the Demons in 2021, booting 17 goals and being named in their best in all but one game.
Shannon Argall has also been a standout for the Demons, helping to guide their younger brigade through the rigors of senior football.
Next match: Kanvia Leeor United (home)
2 wins, 8 losses, 8 points, 36.88 per cent
With Laharum, Kaniva Leeor and Edenhope Apsley all tied on two wins apiece, who can snatch eighth place on the ladder?
Edenhope Apsley have had to deal with their own set of player availability issues in 2021, but their young squad has cracked in each week.
A big round one win over Laharum was a highlight, but they have been unable to recapture that form for much of the 2021 season.
When the season resumes, the Saints will have their eyes locked onto the chance of a third win with a match-up against Taylors Lake.
Next match: Taylors Lake (away)
1 win, 9 losses, 4 points, 47.71 per cent
Wins have been few and far between for Taylors Lake in 2021, with the red and white squad struggling to put together convincing four quarter performances.
The clear highlight of the season has been a 33-point win over Pimpinio in round eight.
In a tough role up forward Lee Marshall has led the way, booting 15 goals so far, while Matthew McCulloch has had a consistent season for the Lakers.
Next match: Edenhope Apsley (home)
1 win, 9 losses, 4 points, 36.24 per cent
The Tigers have shared a similarly tough 2021, but there have been some signs of improvement later in the season.
In round seven Pimpinio upset the Cougars to score their first win of the season off the back of Dylan Baker's six goals and a stellar performance from Dylan Thomas.
With the season drawing to a close there's no doubt the Tigers will be out to grab a scalp or two in their remaining games.
Next match: Natimuk United (home)