Darley, Bacchus Marsh and Lake Wendouree have set themselves apart in the Ballarat Football premiership race as the season approaches the halfway mark.
The trio are head and shoulders above the rest.
They are two games clear of Sunbury, Redan and Melton South, which will all have their work cut out making ground.
Bacchus Marsh confirmed it can rightly claim joint premiership favouritism with a comprehensive 32-point win over Lakers at Maddingley Park on Saturday – handing Darley, which had a bye, top position.
It is impossible to separate Darley, Bacchus Marsh and Lake Wendouree, with each having a win in the three games they have meet each other and appearing so evenly matched.
Darley defeated the Cobras in round one and Lake Wendouree had the better of darley in round seven.
Lakers found the challenge of beating their two major rivals for the flag in consecutive weeks just too much.
There were many times when they stretched Bacchus Marsh with the open, hard-running that took down Darley.
However, while Devils did not have the answers, Bacchus Marsh was able to take stock and squeeze Lake Wendouree into a corner.
Lakers coach Tim Malone, while disappointed with the loss, said they were going to a much-needed bye well placed.
“We had hoped to be unbeaten, but we’ll take it.”
He again emphasised the need for Lakers to be able to back up in the big games, as
it would be a requirement in the finals.
While Lake Wendouree has a bye next round, its medical staff will have plenty to do ahead the next assignment against Melton South on Saturday, July 1.
Malone is expected to be right after missing two weeks with a strained hamstring, but key players Ben Hayes (knee), Nathan Pring (hamstring) and Luke Bucknall (ankle) struck trouble on Saturday.
Each is invaluable to the Lakers’ structure.
Hayes was best-on-ground in the previous round against Darley, Pring is always dangerous around goal and Bucknall ran into some strong form before limping off at the weekend.
Meanwhile, Bacchus Marsh will be looking to get ruckman Daniel Burton (knee) back on the park as quickly as possible.
He withdrew from the selected side and filled in as runner.
Although, the versatile Dean Heta played a starring role in the ruck and deep in attack, where he kicked three goals, on Saturday, the Cobras are naturally eager to get Burton back.
Ryley Stuhldreier is another concern with what appears to be a recurring hamstring issue.
While Darley, Bacchus Marsh and Lake Wendouree are locks for the finals, fourth, fifth and sixth appear less set.
Redan’s best should be enough to keep it safely in the top six, especially with the late arrivals of proven stars Orren Stephenson and Mitch Phelps – each past Lions best and fairests.
Stephenson has had only one full appearance and once he returns will most likely to over as the competition’s number one ruckman.
Phelps has quickly found his feet with six goals in his second game for the Lions against Melton South at the City Oval on Saturday.
Melton South is the one under the most heat. Sunbury is the only team in the top six the Panthers have beaten and they are struggling to find any momentum.
They are far better than last year, when the Panthers failed to win a game, but well short of where they thought they would be when they appointed of Brendan Fevola joint coach to fire up recruiting.