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Another big weekend of EFNL action coming around the corner, with the forecast wet weather unable to dampen expectations.

Balwyn v South Croydon

Headlining another big round of Premier Division action is the thigh-rubber out at Cherry Road between ladder leaders South Croydon and their hosts Balwyn.

Given all of the top seven have at least two wins already this year – and you could argue Doncaster East should also have two as well – this year’s top flight is looking juicy and means games like this one take an all new meaning.

Balwyn got back on the winners list last weekend against an equally inconsistent Blackburn side, thanks to a ‘back-to-basics’ approach which saw a focus on pressure – Balwyn rank first for Pressure Acts in 2021 – intensity and moving the ball forward more directly.

The Tigers look to isolate their top line forwards in Charlie Haley and Jordan Lisle by getting the ball inside 50 as quick as possible to give those two and others the best chance of finding a one-on-one contest, with the boys from Visy Park ranked 8th in the comp for disposals per game and 9th for handballs per game.

Lisle himself is proving to be a handful for opposition defences, as was expected.

The hulking power forward has taken 17 marks inside 50 (Rank #2), seven contested marks (#6) and sits 4th on the goal kicking charts with 11 majors. He managed eight sores last weekend against Blackburn kicking 3.5 and it’s not the first time his radar has been off, so expect a big haul from him soon.

They’ll need to be precise as well as direct with their ball movement the Tigers, with South Croydon still the number one intercept marking side in the competition, with their pressure further up the field – number one for forward 50 tackles – playing a key role in this as well, with sides required to show a lot of composure to find targets inside forward 50 against the Doggies.

They too have a big forward presence in 2021, with James Wilsen providing the Dogs 13 majors in the four games so far. Like Lisle he’s taken seven contested marks and has 12 marks inside 50, ranked fourth in the competition.

Despite their performance last weekend and the possibility of Kris Pendlebury returning, I’ve got to lean towards the Doggies, who have shown they can nullify their opponents’ space so far this year and that should suit the dimensions of Cherry Road.

Plus, a win here could set the 2017 premiers up for the rest of the season, with home game against Doncaster East and North Ringwood in the next fortnight leaving them primed to be 6-1.

Matt Fotia

Norwood v Doncaster East

Norwood will go into the matchup with an increased level of motivation as the thirty-three-point defeat to Noble Park will still be stinging for the Norsemen.

On paper it would be hard to go past the Wooders, but Doncaster East have proven so far in their debut season that they’re no easy-beats, especially not on their home-track at Zerbes, having previously taken 2019 runners up Blackburn right to the wire in Round One.

The bye for Doncaster East may have been at the best time for the team as the break offered a chance to rest weary legs and could see the return of some key personnel.

Norwood midfielders Thomas Maloney and Blake Pearson will enjoy the contested brand of football that this weekend’s weather and the dimensions of Zebres Reserve will bring, but their defenders will be in for a different mission, with the increased likelihood of one-on-one contests tomorrow.

Norwood should jump back on the winners list if they’re serious about contending this season, but don’t be shocked should Doncaster East get another win on their home track.

Arian Odza

Montrose v Upper Ferntree Gully

Upper Ferntree Gully has yet to record a win this season, however, with Montrose on a two-game slide, the Kings will look at this as an exciting opportunity to snatch four points for the first time in 2021.

To do so, Upper Gully will be relying on another big showing from forward Thomas Lovell, who booted five goals and was named in his squads best for the 4th consecutive match in their loss against Bayswater, with the mobile marking forward likely to provide Montrose defenders headaches.

Montrose, on the other hand, will see this as a prime opportunity to get back in the winners column this week against a struggling opposition. Jordan Bastinac has been the one constant in an otherwise very inconsistent start to the year, being named in Montrose’s best four out of five games, including a best-on-ground performance in his sides last win against Lilydale on Anzac Day eve.

A potential banana skin for the Demons, but given their finals aspirations, it’s a win they have to get – and I think they will.

Mitch Turner

Knox v South Belgrave

After enjoying their first win of the season two weeks ago against Templestowe, Knox found themselves back on the wrong side of the ledger against Mulgrave last week, conceding over 100 points to Lions on their home track.

The loss came in spite of an excellent performance from Mitchell Greaves, who had two goals to go along with best on ground honours, with the Knox star enjoying a strong season, despite his sides slow start to the 2021 campaign.

They play a side in South Belgrave which has struggled mightily after a strong start to the season. Three consecutive losses after starting the season 2-0 has the Saints in free-fall down the ladder, albeit with losses coming against the top three in Boronia, The Basin and Ringwood.

Timothy Smith has kicked 15 goals in his four matches so far this season, and he’ll need to produce another big performance if South Belgrave want a good shot at getting their season back on track, which to be fair, I fully expect them to do.

Mitch Turner

Ringwood v The Basin

Quite clearly the best two sides across the early parts of the season in Division Two, The Redbacks (number one attack, number two defence) and The Bears (number one defence, number two attack) come together at Jubliee Park tomorrow.

The Basin put another marker down last Saturday as they dismantled a big scalp in Boronia, with their leg speed and work rate too much for the Hawks to handle.

The Bears get back in numbers and move forward in a wave, making it hard for opposition defenders to track their opponent, creating chaos and confusion. This should be suited to a big ground like Jubliee, where they can spread the ground – and the defence – even further, but the unique slope might make it a tiny bit difficult, with more than a few sides getting caught down the bottom end.

They’ll be sweating on the availability of Ethan Power and Jackson Drake who will provide them with some more taller options to provide pivot points around the ground, along with Connor Edwards who starred last weekend.

Ringwood’s only loss for 2021 came at the hands of Heathmont, who from all reports play a similar style to The Basin, with a similar age demographic, but the Redbacks do have the midfield depth to match The Basin and have the firepower up forward to test their team defence, with multiple mobile options making it harder to get a read on the play for The Bears backs.

I’ve bet against the boys from Batterham too many times this season, so I’ll give them the nod tomorrow. If they get it done, it might be time for the lid to properly come off.

Matt Fotia

Ferntree Gully v East Burwood

Ferntree Gully is sitting pretty at the top of the ladder in Division Three after a strong bounce-back from their loss to Warrandyte a few weekends back.

Kieran Gray has been an excellent performer week-in, week-out, as he contributed four goals and was named best afield in his sides win over Whitehorse last week, adding to his impressive start to 2021.

They will be a tough side to beat this week as they have won three on the trot and are full of confidence and momentum, but if there’s any side that’s going to give it a red-hot crack though, it’s East Burwood.

Coming off a loss, after going down to Waverley by 25-points, the Rams will be looking to restore some pride with a win against another fellow contender, which would help separate them from the back as one of the top two teams in the division on points.

The Rams actually won the last three quarters against the Blues last weekend, starting woefully, conceding nine goals in the first quarter. Expect them to come out breathing fire tomorrow.

The Rams have exceeded expectations in their return up the divisions, but will find themselves wanting a little against the in-form Eagles.

Mitch Turner

Whitehorse Pioneers v Donvale

Whitehorse have had an inconsistent start to the season, winning one and losing four within the Third Division, despite impressing onlookers with their performances against the likes of East Burwood, as they have struggled to implement a game style that can remain dominant throughout the four quarters of footy.

The Pioneers are coming off of a 34 point loss to Ferntree Gully, with the boys from Springfield Park struggling to hit the scoreboard after an uncharacteristically quiet day from Andrew Padbury.

Whitehorse have a tough challenge in Donvale tomorrow, with the Magpies currently sitting sixth, coming off a gritty win over the recently relegated Scoresby.

Donvale, will be going into the match full of buoyancy after dominating Scoresby with their attacking pressure and defensive effort, ensuring a good win with standout performances from Joshua Jordaan and Matthew Leardi, leading sectors of the game against Scoresby.

This one will be close, but I expect Donvale to get the win in a nail biting match.

Arian Odza

Surrey Park v Coldstream

Surrey Park will take on Coldstream at home where a blockbuster between first v second on the Division Four ladder is set to ensue.

Surrey Park come into this one coming off somewhat of an unexpected loss to a revitalised Forest Hill, putting a dampener on the Panthers hot start to 2021, with the boys in Black and White fading badly in the second half.

Coldstream, however, will be looking to continue and increase their run of wins in Division Four. Coldstream have played just one side around the top four this season in Silvan, and they handled themselves with aplomb, cruising to a 10 goal win over their Yarra Valley rivals.

The Cougars will make the trip to Surrey Park, moving the ledger closer to the Panthers, but you can’t see anyone getting that close to Coldstream in 2021.

Arian Odza

Nunawading v Croydon North MLOC

 Both sides would have circled this date in the calendar when the Division Four fixture was released late in 2020, as they both scoured the 16 rounds for some winnable games.

They first met in Round Seven of 2019 and the KangaRams almost nabbed an historic four points, kicking five goals to three in the last quarter to go down by three points.

In 2021 they’ve put a big target on getting numbers through the door, as they look to lay a platform for the future, rather than jump up the ladder but will still be anxious to tick off that first win.

Their opponents seemed set to continue their upward trend in 2021, but have stalled a tiny bit, having lost key players like Jordan Winter – to Division Four rival Surrey Park – and Josh Hartill, who is having a winter in the Northern Territory.

Both sides have played Kilsyth and Surrey Park thus far in 2021 and the Lions have had a better run, with a combined losing margin of 186 to the KangaRams 311, with Cameron Woods one of their keys, appearing in the best players every time he’s pulled on the jumper.

For Croydon North MLOC Zac Leacy and Connor Penman have been their best so far this season and Darcy Price will be eyeing off another chance to hit the scoreboard after he booted four majors in his side’s loss to Chirnside Park earlier in the year.

All signs point to a Nunawading win, but the pressure of being runaway favourites will be something for Croydon North MLOC to prey on.

That being said, I still think it’ll be party time at Koonung Reserve come Saturday Night.

Matt Fotia

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