PANMURE and Merrivale have each got an abundance of top-line players with Hampden league credentials and finals experience to their names.
But Bulldogs coach Simon O’Keefe believes it’s the performances from their bottom six which will determine the victory of today’s blockbuster.
The two sides, ranked first and second on the Warrnambool and District league ladder, headline the round nine action at Panmure Recreation Reserve.
Panmure is unbeaten after eight rounds but has inferior percentage to Merrivale, which will go top with victory.
Adding to the most anticipated match of the regular season is the presence of former Koroit champion Jason Mifsud in a Bulldogs jumper.
O’Keefe, a former teammate to Mifsud, declared the strong-bodied goalkicker would start at full-forward.
But he said having unheralded players perform above their potential would be more important, given the combatants’ even playing lists.
“I think it’s just going to be even. It’ll be the bottom six from each side, how they perform (as to who wins),” he said.
“Obviously if our forwards can capitalise and get one out and take marks where they can kick goals, we can stretch them.
“And vice-versa. If we give them space, Jet Dowie and Brad Kelly have kicked 70 goals between them and it’s round eight so we know what they can do.
“The two sides are very similar. They’re very even across their forward line and so are we.”
O’Keefe said playing Merrivale was “one of the ones you really look forward to”. “Come Saturday at 5pm we’re going to know where we’re at as a footy club and how we’re shaping up for the rest of the year,” he said.
“Blokes individually, they know where their footy is at themselves. We spoke about that you’ve got to step up and make it personal.”
Panmure made four changes for the match, including Brady Purcell, Mifsud, teenager Kallan Melican and Shaun Griffin. Key-position player Daniel Ryan was the biggest exclusion, a casualty of the addition of Mifsud.
Merrivale regained key defensive post Scott Kelly, coach Karl Dwyer and Lachlan Kelly but lost ruckman Rhys Raymond to a calf injury.
Dwyer said defenders Matthew Gleeson or Sean Barnes were likely to get first crack at Mifsud, who kicked 205 goals for Caramut in 1994.
He said the match was crucial in the Tigers’ bid to finish in the top three.
“The top-four sides, you’re going to have to beat a couple of them to finish in the top three,” he said.
“It’s pretty important as far as that goes ... if we can beat those (other) top-four sides it’s going to help us get well on the way to a top-three spot.
“You’ve got to finish top three to give yourself a genuine chance, that’s what history tells us.”
Dwyer said a defeat would not represent “panic stations”. Win or lose, he believed his side would learn much from the 120 minutes of football.
“It’ll be good whatever way it goes. It’ll be good to learn from and get tested, which I’m sure we will,” he said.