THE penultimate round of the Gippsland League will be staged tomorrow.
Just one place in the top five remains up for grabs, while there could still yet be a final twist in the tale to determine who gets the double-chance.
Sale and Maffra are just one win away from sewing up one of the above-mentioned outcomes. A win to the Magpies will mean the double-chance is theirs, and a win to the Eagles will all but book their ticket to the finals.
There is still the remote possibility of Sale ending the regular season fourth and Maffra fifth, which would set-up a week one finals clash between the two rivals.
A Sale/Maffra elimination final would be the first final between the two clubs since the second semi of 2013, and (at the risk of delving into hyperbole), may well be the most hotly contested since the grand final a decade ago.
THE equation for the Magpies is simple – just beat Traralgon at home.
Both teams head into the match fresh from the bye, and should have the opportunity to either welcome players back or select others who may have been carrying niggles in better condition.
Sale, in second on 44 points, is half-a-game clear of Traralgon in fourth. While this writer never did higher than Further Maths in VCE, his calculations conclude that if the Magpies win they will go six points clear of the Maroons with one game to play, thus making it impossible to drop out of the top three.
Given the likelihood of third-placed Wonthaggi (on the same number of points as Sale) beating ninth-placed Bairnsdale this round, Traralgon simply has to win at Sale Oval to be any chance of avoiding making every final a sudden-death encounter.
The Magpies lost their previous match against the Maroons, although they will only need to turnaround a 20-point deficit.
In that encounter, Brad Dessent kicked seven goals, and his work in front of the big sticks has been telling in recent weeks, as Sale has gone on an epic scoring spree.
The Magpies have kicked 100-plus points for five consecutive weeks, for a total of 104.81 (705) since Round 12.
With this in mind, and the fact Traralgon’s Brett Eddy is coming second in the league goal-kicking with 59 majors, this match could well be a shootout.
First to 100 wins.
THE word ‘should’ needs to be emphasised when previewing Maffra’s game against Warragul.
The Eagles have hosting duty, in a contest that will virtually determine whether or not they play finals.
Maffra, in fifth, should defeat Warragul, who are riding out the season and will end up finishing in the bottom three.
A win should be enough to see the Eagles stay safe in the top five for the rest of the season, as it has a 17.43 percentage gap on Morwell in sixth.
The likely outcome of the Eagles’ and Tigers’ last two games will see them end the regular season on the same number of points, but Maffra is so far ahead on percentage that the only way for Morwell to take the last place in finals is to bank on Maffra dropping its last two games, while winning at least one itself.
Maffra’s percentage has been helped by a number of comprehensive victories during the campaign. The Eagles defeated Moe by 125 points in Round 12, Bairnsdale by 84 in Round 11 and Drouin by 75 back in Round 1.
The Eagles will be aiming to showcase this ruthlessness tomorrow, and all but cement another finals qualification.
Maffra has not missed finals this millennium, and there can be little doubt the likes of Danny Butcher, Daniel Bedggood and Winston Gieschen don’t want to be part of the first Eagles team that has this mark next to their name.
Possibly the only thing Warragul has to play for (other than pride) is helping Jed Lamb win the league goal-kicking.
Lamb is four goals clear in the goal-kicking stakes, and if he can give himself a clear lead with one round to play, it will at least give Warragul something to highlight in their annual report.
IN other games, Morwell takes on Drouin.
The Tigers will have two West Gippsland clubs firming in their sights.
Morwell needs to beat Drouin first and foremost, and rely on Warragul rolling Maffra in order for the Tigers to go a game clear in the top five.
Tiger officials’ phones are likely to be refreshed constantly during the game, checking scores from the Maffra Recreation Reserve.
The aftermath of a Morwell win tomorrow could indeed be strange if Maffra is also victorious.
The Tigers will be standing arm-in-arm signing the song in full knowledge their season is over.
WONTHAGGI makes the trip to Bairnsdale.
Like Sale, the Power can secure the double-chance if it takes the four points.
MOE faces the daunting task of Leongatha.
The Lions will be long-on odds of handing the Parrots their first loss for the season, and first since April 2021.