THE Warrnambool and District league A grade netball finals puzzle is three-fifths complete.
Old Collegians, Panmure and Dennington have locked away their spots in the top five, with four rounds left in the regular season.
The trio held down the same positions in 2013, albeit in a different order. The Bulldogs entered the finals as premiership favourites after losing just once.
This time around the Warriors have set the pace. Lisa Arundell’s side has gone 14 matches unbeaten and is on track for back-to-back flags.
But it’s further down the ladder where there is much interest for netball fans.
The battle for fourth and fifth has all the hallmarks of going down to the wire.
Merrivale, Kolora-Noorat, Deakin University and Allansford are vying to play in the elimination final. Four points separate fourth from seventh.
Merrivale holds the advantage. But the Tigers’ horror run home — the Sharks, Bulldogs, Dogs and Warriors — has them in jeopardy of missing finals.
And wouldn’t that be a development. The one-time powerhouse has played in the past eight finals series, winning four flags.
The task is no easier for resurgent Kolora-Noorat, which must play the Sharks, as well as two sides in the top three.
The Power has impressed with its blend of youth and experience. But two narrow defeats to the Tigers in the space of three weeks were damaging.
Deakin University has all the aces. Three of its four matches are against direct rivals for fourth or fifth, meaning the Sharks’ fate rests in their own hands.
A month of convincing netball will have them playing finals. But two or three defeats will mean the opportunity goes begging for at least 12 months.
Allansford has the easiest assignments. The Cats’ only top-three opponent to come is Old Collegians. But they start the run home two points out of the five.
Complicating the equation is the Tigers-Cats draw a fortnight ago. Percentage is unlikely to be a factor because two contenders are on a different points scale.
Of the others, Timboon Demons and Russells Creek are still in the equation, but only mathematically. Both would need four big wins to have any hope.
But regardless of which sides feature in the post-season action, Old Collegians are in the box seat for the flag.
The Warriors are hardly invincible. Three wins by single-figure margins suggests as much. But they are the side to catch.