MERRIVALE coach Karl Dwyer is confident key utility Todd McLean has overcome the back problems which sidelined him this season.
McLean will play his first senior match for the season when the Tigers host Panmure in a Warrnambool and District league showdown tomorrow.
The former coach has regained fitness in the reserves the past two weeks and is among four top-line additions for the second-versus-first clash.
Dwyer, Josh Sobey and Rhys Raymond also return. Claye Cassidy, Matthew Peake and Nathan Crute are among the omissions.
“He’s had back issues all year. He’s played the last couple in the ressies and is finally ready for his first game,” Dwyer said of McLean.
“It’s one of those things, he’s been frustrated by it and has had to manage it.
“He doesn’t give much away but I think he’s been pretty excited. The (reserves) games haven’t been overly competitive. They’ve won pretty easily.
“It’s a bit hard to tell how he’s going but he’s moving around all right and he’s pulled up all right. That’s the main thing.”
Dwyer said the Bulldogs clash presented his men with a chance to make a statement about their finals credentials.
They face a tough run home — Dennington and Old Collegians follow — and need two wins to guarantee a top-three berth and a double chance in finals.
But anything below their best football will leave them vulnerable against the unbeaten Bulldogs, who won by 26 points in the sides’ first meeting.
“That’s what we hope to bring to the party, absolutely. Last time we were outplayed convincingly in the first half,” Dwyer said.
“We got better after half-time but the game was shot by then. We have to make sure we start that way this time around.
“We’ll know more by 5pm on Sunday (whether we’ve learnt anything) but they certainly gave us a footy lesson in the first half.”
Panmure made just one change, losing Shaun Griffin to concussion and including Michael Payne.
Coach Simon O’Keefe believed the Bulldogs and Tigers would treat the match, which has the potential to attract a bumper crowd, as “a mini final”.
He implored his men to keep playing to win in the final three rounds, despite having top spot all but sewn up — victory this weekend would make that certain.
“All these people saying a loss is as good as a win, I don’t really believe that. We’ll take it week by week,” he said.
“A good, close game is as good as anything. Hopefully there are times we are behind and we have to fight back and there’s no doubt there will be.
“They’re playing good footy, they’ll be hard to beat. Our boys are looking forward to that.
“The last two weeks we haven’t been at our peak but we’ve been able to win and win easily. That’s a sign of a good side.”