The round-five Goulburn Valley League match between Rochester and Benalla tomorrow has all the makings of a blockbuster, and could shape the fortunes of both sides for the season to come.
The Tigers have their backs against the wall to start the year, and face the possibility of losing three games in a row at their previously impregnable Moon Oval.
In the past five seasons Rochester has only been defeated at home more than twice in a year once — 2014 — which included an elimination final loss to Tatura.
Meanwhile, the Saints have looked a strong unit to begin the year, but a similar slip-up here to the one in their previous fixture against Shepparton would see them brought firmly back to the chasing pack.
Benalla has a good record at Moon Oval though, accounting for two of the past four Tiger defeats there before this year.
With a poor record (one win and three losses) thus far this season, and the prospect of another tough game against the Saints, the Tigers need to stand up and be counted.
‘‘We know Benalla are going pretty well,’’ playing-coach James Flaherty said.
‘‘We’re going to have to work really hard.’’
A tough draw and mounting injury toll could be drawn upon as excuses for the Tigers, but Flaherty refuses to blame his side’s woes on anything other than performance.
‘‘You try not to use excuses,’’ he said.
‘‘We aren’t playing our best football at the moment, we’re turning the ball over a lot, but we’ve worked on that at training,’’ Flaherty said.
The return of superstar forward Steven Stroobants, who booted three goals in Goulburn Valley’s seven-point loss to Ovens and Murray last week, will be integral for Rochester, which has only managed a combined 20 majors across its three losses this year.
Perry Oliver and Heath Aitken will also return to help boost the Tigers’ chances.
‘‘Stroobs is obviously a very dangerous player, but Oliver and Aitken can go forward as well,’’ Flaherty said.
‘‘So that might change up our forward structure a bit.’’
Ash Watson (hamstring) and Elliot Bowen (quadriceps) will make way after picking up injuries in round-four, with Flaherty hopeful their stints on the sideline will be short-lived.
‘‘They (the injuries) aren’t too serious, so hopefully they’ll both be back in a couple more weeks,’’ he said.
As for handling the Saints, Flaherty was wary of their midfield prowess.
‘‘Their midfield is as good as any in the competition,’’ he said.
‘‘You have to give them that respect.’’
Benalla could be boosted by a number of key inclusions though, with James Martyn a certain starter and co-captain Jordan Wolff and the silky David Mennen set to face a final fitness test for the important round-five clash.
With 10 Saints having to back up from interleague duties, including playing-coach Luke Morgan himself, fatigue could present an issue, but the Benalla leader insisted it would help, rather than hinder, his troops.
‘‘Continuity in football is everything,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘We’ve got some players that have been able to play through and stay in some form.
‘‘But we’ve also got a few boys who have been able to rest up niggles and get ready for this game.’’
One Saint who will be refreshed and raring to go will be forward target Jarrod Bannister, who has already slotted 27 goals in just four matches.
‘‘Our scoring ability is definitely something we look at,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘We’ve probably got three to five players that can kick multiple goals throughout a game, and if we can do that it will go a long way towards us winning.’’
While the Tigers are struggling to get on the board so far, Benalla will not be taking this game lightly.
‘‘They are a quality outfit and we know a lot about them, it’s always a big game,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘They’ve played some handy opposition, so I think that has contributed to their start.
‘‘We’re looking forward to a good contest.’’