Bungaree v Daylesford
at Bungaree, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Bungaree 24.9 (153) d Daylesford 11.11 (77), round 5, 2016
There’s a perception around the Central Highlands Football League that Bungaree will be the team that slides from the current top four by finals.
A rather easy run through the middle part of the season has allowed coach Heath Pyke and his men to climb up the table, with the team winning its past seven games to establish a grip on fourth position.
But staying there is the tough part.
Bungaree finishes the home and away campaign with a sequence of games against top eight opponents, starting this weekend against Daylesford.
Pyke said his side doesn’t care about external perceptions on whether or not the Demons are a top four outfit and knows the reality will be in how it performs against the Bulldogs, Springbank, Gordon and Buninyong in the coming weeks.
Defender Matt Geary is back for the hosts this weekend after missing the most recent win over Newlyn with a rib injury, as is half back Zac Denham, who has been sidelined with a hamstring issue.
Daylesford heads into this encounter on the back of a narrow nine-point loss to the Tigers.
That result leaves the team in eighth spot, four points clear of the ninth-placed Learmonth.
Veteran Rob Rodgers was the sole inclusion into the team submitted to The Courier on Thursday night.
Buninyong v Learmonth
at Buninyong, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Buninyong 11.17 (83) d Learmonth 6.10 (46), round 1, 2016
Buninyong has rolled in the big names for its clash with Learmonth on Saturday.
The Bombers have made a number of changes to the team that beat Clunes before the Central Highlands Football League break.
Buninyong then had last weekend off due to the Smythesdale bye.
The key inclusions include versatile ruckman Liam Rigby, who is back from holidays, fellow tall Anthony Ebery, who has overcome a groin issue, and speedy midfielder Fraser Russell, who has endured a calf injury.
Former Gordon player Jaymes Gorman, who debuted for the Bombers in the reserves last weekend after getting a mid-season clearance to the club, has also been named to make his first senior appearance in red and black.
Buninyong coach Jarrod Morgan said the team’s top four destiny was in its own hands.
“If we win every game from here we finish top four,” Morgan said.
“It’s definitely a realistic chance, (there’s) just a lot to play out in the next five weeks, I suppose.”
Learmonth slipped out of the top eight last weekend following the loss to Gordon.
The Lakies have made four changes to that team, with backman Nathan Ross and ruckman Jye Hutchison the key ins and onballer Matt Jackson (unavailable) and forward Richard Zelencich (hamstring) the big outs.
Hepburn v Creswick
at Hepburn, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Hepburn 13.12 (90) d Creswick 2.7 (19), round 15, 2016
Hepburn coach Jason Olver says Nick Dal Santo will qualify for the Central Highlands Football League finals series with a round 17 appearance against Learmonth.
The former St Kilda and North Melbourne star has played two games for the Burras this season, but needs to feature in one more in order to be eligible for the playoffs.
Dal Santo is then hoped to be part of Hepburn’s finals campaign, but that will depend on his work schedule with AFL media outlets.
Olver also said it appears doubtful Dal Santo’s former St Kilda teammate Jason Blake will play a part in the finals.
Blake debuted for the club against Springbank in round nine, but Olver said he has been battling a quadriceps injury ever since.
Olver has brought back a number of stars for this Saturday’s clash against Creswick after they were spelled for the big win over Skipton.
The inclusions for this weekend’s fixture include Aron Burns, Kamen Ogilvie, Alan Ware, Sean Salmon and Luke Stanton.
The Wickers have named five changes to the side that was well beaten by Beaufort last round, with Matt Miller, Darrien Mann – who has served his two-week suspension for striking – and Paul Phillips among the additions.
Hepburn is third on the ladder, while Creswick is 14th.
Beaufort v Carngham-Linton
at Beaufort, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Beaufort 31.16 (202) d Carngham-Linton 4.2 (26), round 6, 2016
Beaufort: The Crows bring back onballers Michael Foster and Jarrod McCorkell for the battle with Carngham-Linton this weekend.
But the team has again lost defender Brendan Howard, who had a recurrence of a hamstring injury during last weekend's win over Creswick.
Carngham-Linton: The Saints put in a gallant effort against Dunnstown last Saturday, but it came up short by 15 points.
The team now has a run of tough games against Beaufort, Hepburn and Waubra before winnable fixtures with Rokewood-Corindhap and Skipton to close out the year.
Dunnstown v Clunes
at Dunnstown, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Dunnstown 15.9 (99) d Clunes 9.8 (62), round 15, 2016
Dunnstown: The Towners' late season revival is in full swing, with the team landing a fourth-straight success on the weekend.
Dunnstown is 12th on the ladder following the 15-point victory against Carngham-Linton and will fancy its chances of extending the streak against a lowly rival this Saturday.
Clunes: The Magpies ended a long winning drought with their third success of the campaign on Saturday.
The victory against Ballan helped the Clunes boys end an eight-game losing streak and eclipse its total of two wins from season 2016.
Gordon v Newlyn
at Gordon, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Gordon 18.19 (127) d Newlyn 11.9 (75), round 13, 2016
Gordon: Eagles defender Cobie Davis is unavailable for the team's home encounter with Newlyn this weekend.
Davis comes out of a team that landed a sixth-straight win with victory over Learmonth last Saturday to keep its place in fifth spot on the ladder.
Newlyn: There wasn't too many positives as Newlyn was thumped by Bungaree last weekend to slip to a fourth-straight defeat.
And with the trip to Gordon followed by a clash against Buninyong, the battle with Ballan in round 15 looks the Cats' next decent chance for a win.
Springbank v Rokewood-Corindhap
at Wallace, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Springbank 22.16 (148) d Rokewood-Corindhap 7.2 (44), round 16, 2016
Springbank: Star forward Tom Eltringham is back for the Tigers after missing the past six games while on overseas holiday.
Eltringham has been named to play alongside coach Michael Searl, who hopes to make his comeback from a knee injury. Meanwhile, defender Shannon Donegan is expected to miss the next six to eight weeks with a fractured skull sustained in the win over Daylesford last weekend.
Rokewood-Corindhap: Grasshoppers coach Jarrod Thompson is hopeful young gun Caius Barrenger will return to play some part in the team's 2017 campaign.
Barrenger, a versatile key position player, required surgery after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament in a pre-season practice match, but has resumed full training and could make an appearance late in the season.
Waubra v Skipton
at Waubra, Saturday, 2.30pm
Last time: Waubra 12.12 (84) d Skipton 7.8 (50), round 16, 2016
Waubra: The Roos climbed back into the top eight after beating Rokewood-Corindhap by more than 100 points last weekend.
The side is set to be without the important Paul Dodds (unavailable) and Nick Holding (knee) for this clash, but gets back onballers Josh Crawford and Ben Wilson, who were unavailable for the battle with the Grasshoppers.
Skipton: The Emus have been on the end of some heavy defeats in recent weeks, with last Saturday's 217-point drubbing at the hands of Hepburn one of the worst for the season.
Skipton looks up against it this weekend, but will be targeting the round 14 fixture against fellow battlers Rokewood-Corindhap for a maiden win in 2017.