Central Highlands Football League round five previews for Saturday;
Skipton faces its first acid test of the Central Highlands Football League season - going into enemy territory to take on Dunnstown on Saturday.
The Emus have cruised through their opening four assignments, playing four of the five bottom teams
While they are one of three sides unbeaten, joint coach Sam Willian says they have no illusions about sitting second on the ladder.
"This will tell us where we're at - a measure for us."
In contrast, Dunnstown has been a constant in the biggest matches of the season to date, having the better of the ever dangerous Buninyong, losing to Gordon by three points and defeating Hepburn - enough to suggest the Towners are right in the premiership race.
Being at home makes them all the more formidable.
Willian said Skipton was excited about the challenge Dunnstown offered.
He said the Emus were eager to get one back on the Towners after losing a relatively close contest last season. "There was a bit of feeling in it. We're up for this," Willian said.
Skipton will get back Bailey McKimmie after missing one game with illness, but number one ruckman Pat Graham (finger) remains sidelined.
Dunnstown coach Glenn Wilkins sees this game as the first of three which could go a long way to shaping the Towners' season. Rokewood-Corindhap and Springbank follow.
He said the Towners were well prepared and ready for whatever was thrown at them.
Jack Leonard (shoulder) is out, but Hamish Hallahan will play for the first time since injurying a knee in round one.
There were some good signs against Gordon - enough to suggest a win is not too far away.
Breaking the ice against Hepburn though is going to be far from easy.
The Roos need to find a little bit extra yet if they are to get the job done here.
They showed their fighting qualities at Gordon, being able to reply on each occasion that the Eagles kicked away.
Their biggest issue was that they were coming from too far back.
Waubra will need to start strongly and that is going to depend largely on drive from Caleb McGrath, Matt Miller, Tom Nash and James Lukich.
If the Roos can get the ball into the hands of Hayden Hughes and Brandon Green more often, Hepburn will have cause enough to be concerned.
Beware the wounded Roos.
Burras coach Mitch Banner says he's treating every fixture as a danger game.
So while this might not be any different to every other outing for Banner, Waubra poses a real threat.
Although there remains plenty of optimism in the Waubra camp, it is hurting and Hepburn will not want to be off its game.
Banner said one of his primary objectives is to see Hepburn improve on a weekly basis.
He has a wealth of experience with the likes of ruckman Sean Tighe and evergreen Andy McKay, as well as himself, but Banner is also providing a reminder of the number of youngsters in the side and the need to keep getting games into them.
"Unless you're sharp all the time, you can get caught out.
"There's already been results that show that."
Hepburn will be without Hayden Rodgers (AC joint).
Clunes and Learmonth are each looking to get back on track in a game transferred from Learmonth to Clunes owing to the Lakie's clubrooms redevelopment not yet being complete.
Each flew out of the blocks with wins in the opening two rounds, but that is where the runs ended.
Clunes will still be rueing a loss to Daylesford, but it was never going to get over Dunnstown.
Despite a 2:2 record, Learmonth has really done nothing wrong. Wins over Newlyn and Buninyong were big outcomes and although missing out on premiership points Lakies lost nothing in defeat to Gordon and Hepburn.
Learmonth has to capitalise on this opportunity as the bar is again going to rise after this with match-ups against Skipton, Rokewood-Corindhap and Springbank in as many weeks.
For Clunes coach Luke Davidson, this is a game the Magpies need to win if they are to build on the improvement shown last year, when they lost to Learmonth by three points.
He said with so much on the line for the Lakies as well he had no doubt they would be coming hard.
"If we can play our best, we can beat them."
These are the words of Creswick coach Dean Romeril as the Wickers search for their first win.
He parallels this assignment to their opening game of the season, when they lost to Clunes by 12 points.
Romeril said had Creswick taken that opportunity, this game would have a much different complexion about it.
He said one win could give players a whole new mindset.
Romeril said player numbers were not helping Creswick's cause either, with COVID-19 continuing to impact along with injuries.
"It's getting harder."
James Deighton (hamstring) and Jacob Plier (knee) are among the latest to be sidelined.
Three wins in a row.
What a run that will be if the Crows get over Creswick, given they had just two wins last season.
They have played well enough in wins over Bungaree and Carngham-Linton to suggest they are favourite to achieve it.
Joint coach Brendan Howard said it was important to make the most of a draw which provided winnable games early in the season.
He said there was a long way to go yet, but it was encouraging to have everyone up and about.
Beaufort gets back Jimmy Vanderkley and Tim Haase, who was a late withdrawal last week, but loses to Zach Leckie to concussion.
This is what Saints coach Clayton Scoble wants to see from his charges.
"We fluctuate too much.
"We need to put four quarters together."
Scoble said 20 to 25-minute lapses had been proving costly.
He believes if they can get it right this is certainly a winnable game.
Carngham-Linton will be without Damon Kierce and James Richardson, who are both unavailable.
Scoble also confirmed that Rory Brown, injured in round one, has damaged an anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the rest of the season.
The Demons return from a bye - hopefully freshened up after losses to Springbank and Beaufort.
Coach Ryan Waight is unsure whether the timing of the break was good or bad, although he is probably leaning towards it being a benefit - giving time for a reset.
Only time will tell.
They resume on the back foot, but have a run of games ahead which gives them an opportunity to re-ignite their season.
Bungaree has learnt quickly nothing can be taken for granted.
"Every game has to be taken on its merits.
"We learnt that the hard way against Beaufort," Waight said.
Former East Point ruckman Jaykeb Lench will make his debut for the Demons.
Waight said he was a great inclusion - a real boost.
However, on the deficit side Bungaree loses young recruit Ben Dodd (shoulder), Mitch Hay (cheekbone), Sam Hammond (achilles tendon) and Jackson Murphy (hamstring).
The Cats need a lift right now.
This will be the first time this season though they have played in consecutive weeks after interruptions by the Easter break and a bye, so this should be of benefit.
It is never easy with a stop-start schedule, so they now have a chance to get some continuity.
Marcus Darmody will be better for a run, but Newlyn is not going to find it easy breaking down the all-round strengths of Gordon.
Another injury for the Eagles with Jaymes Gorman straining his groin against Waubra.
This in addition to losing Mathew Stokes after his club debut and Gerard Clifford being unavailable
Depth continues to be tested, but it does not seem to be an issue the way Gordon is travelling.
Joint coach Adam Toohey said the Eagles were not reading too much into Newlyn's form - indicating the Cats are capable of playing better.
"You always need to be cautious."
He said when a side had players of the calibre of Marcus Darmody up forward and Sean Willmott through the midfield there was always a need to be right on your game.
Ethan Crackel has been named after missing with injury.
Coach Hamish Jarrad knows at least one upset win in the next two rounds could get the Bulldogs up and running.
And he believes Daylesford is more than capable of doing that as they prepare to face the Grasshoppers and Springbank back-to-back.
While they are big challenges for a side with just the one win (against Clunes), Jarrad is not shying away from Daylesford's chances of achieving one or two of the upsets of the season.
"We'll be getting out there and giving it a real shot.
"If we can get everything right..."
This will include getting more firepower in attack.
Xavier Walsh is unavailable.
Cam Richardson will play his first game for the Grasshoppers this season as forecast by the club a week ago.
He returns with Jack Kelly, who has missed the past two weeks with hamstring trouble.
They replace key defender Joe Bragagnolo (hamstring) and forward/ruckman Ed Denouden (unavailable).
The Hoppers are chasing a fourth win on end ahead of a crunch game against Dunnstown.
The Tigers march on.
Like Skipton, they have faced a series of teams which find themselves well down the ladder.
This is no different.
They have gone out and out-classed their rivals thanks to a powerful midfield and plenty of avenues to goal via Stephen Staunton, Connor Parkins, Todd Finco and Zac Bozanich.
And the quartet has only been together once and that still hasn't changed.
Busy ball-getter Jay Homewood makes a welcome return for the Blues, which continues to be face combinations near the top of the ladder.
Despite the high degree of difficulty for Ballan, coach Tristan Batten has been encouraged by the improvement he has seen in individuals and at team level.
He knows matches such as these which pitch top against bottom are part of the learning curve.
Having Lachlan Conlan unavailable is a blow, as is having young midfielder Tom Cox out owing to concussion protocol.
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