MFL | Nathalia braces for ‘season-defining’ clash with in-form Congupna

On the rise: Nathalia coach Mal Barnes will be hoping his side can pull off another upset as it welcomes an in-form Congupna. Photo by Steve Huntly

If you had told Nathalia coach Mal Barnes back in round four that his then winless team would find itself on the doorstep of the Murray Football League top six some eight weeks later, he probably would have thought you were crazy.

But fast forward to the eve of round 12 and that is exactly where the five-time reigning premiers find themselves, with a string of four straight wins propelling them up into seventh spot and just two wins out of that prized sixth spot.

And how fitting that this Saturday the Purples take on the side currently sitting sixth, Congupna. in what is the definition of an eight-point game on their Nathalia Recreation Reserve home deck.

Understanding the magnitude of the challenge at hand, Barnes said his team was in a fantastic place heading into this do-or-die clash.

“We are happy with the way things are going, we have got a bit of momentum at the moment which is good and we’re just excited to play Congupna and test ourselves,” he said.

“This game is super important and we won’t shy away from that, obviously our aim is to play finals, so in the context of our season this is make or break for us.

“But we don’t want to go out there with any pressure on ourselves, it’s more about controlling what we can control, and it starts with us just hunting Congupna from the first bounce.”

Standing in Nathalia’s way is a Congupna team brimming confidence, having won its past six games to announce itself as one of the form teams of the competition.

Knowing that they come into this clash as underdogs, Barnes explained what his side would have to do to come away with the upset victory.

“They have got some key guys that are going well for them so we will have to monitor them, but for us we just need to focus on putting together a real team performance,” he said.

“We are probably playing a bit of a different game plan to different years and I think the boys are really starting to grasp that now, so if we can bring that intensity for the entire four quarters that will give us the best chance of winning.”

Congupna on the other hand comes into this clash eager to continue its winning ways and push up towards the top four.

But coach Kevin O’Donoghue understands that a trip to Nathalia is never an easy task, with his team needing to be at its absolute best from the first bounce.

“They (Nathalia) are always hard to beat and are really hitting some form too, so we are expecting a very tough contest over there,” O’Donoghue said.

“I am really happy with how we have been playing our footy over the past few weeks, we have done a great job of working together and getting a lot of different contributors.

“We’re playing team football at the moment and that will need to continue this week.”

Both sides appear set to sport similar line-ups to last week, with a slight injury concern to Congupna’s Ben Bingham the only potential change.

Elsewhere, Deniliquin Rams and Moama face off in a mouth-watering contest, with the winner set to solidify its position in the top four.

Reeling from its first loss of the season against Cobram last week, the task doesn’t get any easier for Mulwala this weekend as it welcomes a Tongala fresh off a confidence- building victory.

Numurkah will be eyeing off back-to-back wins as it travels north to take on a winless Echuca United.

A return to the winners’ list will be on the agenda for Barooga as it welcomes Rumbalara.

Ladder-leader Cobram rounds out the weekend’s action with a trip to Finley to face the struggling Cats.