With the top-five just about locked in, the attention over the final three weeks will focus on which sides secure a double chance and who will fall victim in the relegation battle.
Macleod has opened a two-game and percentage advantage at the top of the ladder and now looks a near certainty to take out the minor premiership.
It leaves the race to secure the final two spots inside the top-three down to Bundoora, West Preston-Lakeside and Northcote Park – who all enter Round 16 at 10-5. Greensborough is still an outside chance for a top-three finish but will need results to go its way.
Eltham’s come-from-behind win over Hurstbridge has added greater intrigue to the relegation battle, with the Panthers (4-13) now just percentage behind Whittlesea. Hurstbridge and Montmorency also have work to do in the last three weeks, just a win ahead of the Panthers.
With so much to play for at both the top and bottom of the ladder, each of the final 15 regular-season matches has plenty riding on it – making for a gripping finish to the year.
The round’s blockbuster match will be played at Yulong Reserve where Bundoora hosts West Preston-Lakeside in a match that pits second against third.
Both sides are very much in premiership contention in 2017 and this looms as a pivotal game for both side’s finals ambitions. Given the even nature of the current top-five, never before has a double chance in the finals seemed as important as this year.
Bundoora jumped from fourth to second on the back of last week’s thumping of Montmorency. The 106-point result helped lift the Bulls’ percentage from 123.26 to 131.72.
The Bulls never took their foot off the gas in the impressive four-quarter display, where they kicked seven goals in the opening term before adding five in each of the remaining three quarters.
Matty Dennis was the standout in the win, while Brenton Keating, Nick Grabowski and the returning Scott Dowell also produced impressive performances as their side notched the biggest win of the 2017 season.
Once again the load was spread up forward, with eight players kicking multiple goals – headed by Gary Moorcroft who added four to take his season tally to 45. The competition’s leading goal kickers go head-to-head this week with Moorcroft at one end and Ahmed Saad at the other.
West Preston-Lakeside should be well rested after a week’s break and will likely be the fresher of the sides, with Bundoora entering the game on the back of just a six-day break following last week’s Sunday fixture against Montmorency.
Like the Bulls, the Roosters have won four of their past five games, which includes a dominant 47-point victory over Greensborough in Round 13 – the Boro’s only loss since Round 5.
The Roosters will no doubt have a point to prove this weekend, having lost their past three encounters against top-three sides, which includes a 19-point defeat to the Bulls when the sides met at J.E. Moore Park in Round 6.
Eltham will be looking to score its second win over Greensborough for the season when the sides meet at Eltham Central Park.
The home team enters the match with renewed vigour following last week’s come-from-behind win over Hurstbridge. The Panthers rallied from four goals down to score a vital three-point win – ending a seven-game losing streak in the process.
It was the second time this year the Panthers have hauled in a big deficit in the last quarter, after coming from a similar position against Macleod in Round 5 to score one of the upsets of the season.
Josh Merkel was a towering presence in last week’s victory, while James Reid made an immediate impact in his return to the senior side. The duo was well supported by Bradyn Taglieri and Brandon Freeman, who kicked a game-high four goals.
While the Panthers may go in as underdogs this week, they do have winning form against Greensborough – having won their past two outings. That includes a thrilling four-point victory in the Good Friday clash in Round 1, when Josh Merkel slotted the winning goal in the final minute.
Greensborough again produced a stellar defensive display to score a comfortable 48-point win over Northcote Park last Saturday – restricting the Cougars to just 12 scoring shots for the day.
The Boro won all four quarters, setting up the triumph with an eight-goal to three opening half to lead by 32 points at the main break. Jack Johnston, Jamie Craker and Chris Clark were again key contributors in the win, with their side’s 13 goals shared between eight players.
The win looked to all but secure a finals place for the Boro, who now sit three wins ahead of sixth-placed Heidelberg. While a top-three finish is still mathematically possible, it is likely that the Boro will face of in an elimination final in the first week of the finals.
With wins in nine of their past 10 games and with momentum building, it is impossible to put a ceiling on what the Boro can achieve in the finals, even if they don’t finish in the top-five.
Heidelberg returns from a break when it travels north to take on Whittlesea.
Earlier in the year the Tigers would have hoped the late-season bye would give them a chance to freshen up before finals. However, it now looks all but certain they will become the first Division 1 premier under the NFL banner to miss the finals the following year.
In order to play finals, Heidelberg must win its final three matches and hope Greensborough loses its final three fixtures.
While that scenario appears unlikely given the Boro’s red-hot form, the pride of Heidelberg will ensure it will show fighting spirit in the last three rounds to at least hold up its end of the bargain.
Whittlesea is again only percentage off bottom spot following last week’s 49-point defeat to Macleod at De Winton Park. The Eagles were outclassed by the home side, but fought out the game well and were only outscored by four points after half time.
Matthew Atta excelled in a defensive role, while Jai Robinson and Paul Higgins were also among the Eagles’ best players.
The Eagles will spend the final three rounds trying to ensure they remain in Division 1 for the third-consecutive year in 2018. They will also hope to give playing-assistant Justin Sherman a fitting send-off after the speedster last week announced he would retire at season’s end.
Northcote Park travels to Ben Frilay Oval for the first time in more than a decade when it takes on Hurstbridge.
The Cougars have fallen out of the top-three for the first time since Round 3 following last week’s eight-goal loss to Greensborough. They have now lost three of their past four games after a 9-2 start to the season.
With Jackson Starcevich and Ash Close both unavailable the Cougars managed only five goals as they recorded their lowest score of the season in the 13.7 (85) to 5.7 (37) defeat at War Memorial Park.
The Cougars struggled to adapt to the windy conditions and battled to move the ball with any fluency. That was despite strong showings from Bronik Davies, Brock McLennan and Mick O’Connell.
One positive out of the day was the strong return of Lachlan Boscarini, who was among his side’s best in his first game since Round 8.
Hurstbridge missed a golden opportunity to lock-in its place in the top flight for next season, coughing up a 24-point three quarter time advantage to Eltham. The Bridges led in the closing stages, before conceding a goal in the final minutes.
In the end they were made to pay for wasted chances early, after kicking 3.8 in the opening quarter – giving them only an eight-point lead at quarter time despite having eight more scoring shots.
The Bridges face a difficult finish to the season with this week’s game followed by matches against Greensborough and West Preston-Lakeside. Despite the tough challenges that await, Trevor Little’s side will be hopeful of scoring an upset somewhere along the line.
Macleod will start the warmest of favourite when it takes on Montmorency at Montmorency Park.
Two wins in the final three rounds will hand the Roos the minor premiership – something they have not been able to achieve over the past two years despite playing off in consecutive grand finals.
Last year’s runner-up made a flying start against Whittlesea last week, racing to a 29-point advantage in the opening quarter before going on to score a comfortable win.
Justin White racked up the football, while Hayden and Kurt Manuel had strong games through the midfield and continue to put their hand up for a place in the Roos’ line-up come finals.
Montmorency had a forgettable day at Bundoora and will be looking to bounce back quickly from its worst performance in recent times.
Much like Hurstbridge, the Magpies face a difficult end to the season which leaves them vulnerable should Eltham and Whittlesea score wins during the final three rounds.
The positive is they did put up a strong challenge in their last meeting with Macleod, where they trailed by just nine points at the last change before fading out of the game late in the piece.