Kinglake coach Andrew Fiarchild addresses the players post-match. PHOTO: Ashley Geelan/VicNews

2023 has been the closest Northern Football Netball League Division 3 campaign in recent memory. With four games to go we still don’t know who will finish where come season’s end.

Following Round 14, five teams are fighting for the top four, with three of them in the hunt for the double chance.

Mernda defeated Reservoir by 145 points at Waterview Recreation Reserve, with the floodgates opening for the home team midway through the third term after the Mustangs moved the ball well early but couldn’t finish off the good work on the scoreboard.

“We just ticked another box today,” Mernda coach Robert Fletcher said. 

Sixteen of the senior players on the day had come through the junior system at the Demons. With another best-on-ground performance from Kai Turner adding to what has been a terrific season.

Robert Holland and Taylor Bryant impressed the Mustangs as they gear up for the battle against Lalor.

“We’re still learning what it takes to play four quarters of football,” Reservoir coach Justin George said.

Heidelberg West atoned for their Round 5 defeat at the hands of Kilmore with a 26-point triumph at J.J. Clancy Reserve.  The win was vital as the team fights to stay in the top four ahead of a big final month.

“We’re happy with the way we played and we’re taking each challenge as it comes,” Heidelberg West coach Michael Missen said. 

Missen praised the work of Louis Hill whose pressure acts helped bring teammates into the game, while Ryan Offer was also solid in defence.

“It was a real physical game of footy which will help our young fellows develop going forward,” Kilmore coach Paul Derrick said. 

Derrick gave a tick to Grant Paxton and Mitchell Portoglou for their efforts last Saturday.

Kinglake followed the lead of Mernda in running away with their game late in the day against the Fitzroy Stars at Sir Douglas Nicholls Oval.

The Lakers led by only 10 points early in the final term but kicked away to prevail by 55 points in what was considered a dangerous game for the side.

“To be challenged in the final quarter, stand up and respond strongly, I’m really proud of the effort,” Kinglake coach Andrew Fairchild said.

Fairchild liked the work of Lesley Adams at half-forward and Thomas Clarke in the ruck, while Bailey Robinson went head-to-head with Jai Burns and impressed his coach.

James Ellis did well for the Stars as well as the talented duo Burns and Peter Hood. The Stars now have the bye before three interesting games to round out their first Division 3 campaign.

Old Eltham Collegians were the big winners in Round 14 when overcoming Laurimar at Eltham College to the tune of seven points.  The Turtles have now won three of the past four games against the Power and could possibly face them again in the first week of finals.

Those results set up an intriguing run-down to the finals.  Laurimar fell from top to third with the loss and Mernda moved up to the second spot. 

With a game in hand and all remaining games against teams in the fourth spot or below, the Demons will grab the double chance merely by winning their last four games.

Kinglake jumped up to the top spot with their victory and have a game break on both the Demons and Power.

The battle for fourth is fascinating, as the Hawks currently hold that spot and have a game in hand on Old Eltham Collegians, but have a tougher run home. If they keep winning, they will be a part of the finals action.

Round 15 presents fans with four great games which will all hold important significance to the final standings. 

Heidelberg West hosts Laurimar at Heidelberg Park and it’s a game that the Hawks would most likely need to win if they to remain in the best position to play finals. 

With games against Mernda, Kinglake and Lalor to come after the Power, they will probably need to win at least three of their final four games to clinch the final spot in the four.

It’s equally important for the Power who will want to return to the winner’s list immediately.  With matches against Kinglake and Reservoir to round out the season, a victory in all these games will likely see them finish in the top two.

Laurimar defeated Heidelberg West by 41 points at Laurimar Reserve back in Round 6 which bodes well for the Power, however, the Hawks appear to be in better form now, so a tight tussle is likely.

Kilmore plays their second of back-to-back home games and now welcomes Mernda to J.J. Clancy Reserve. 

The Demons would go into the game with plenty of confidence after good recent wins against Kinglake and Reservoir. 

They also recorded a big 77-point victory over the Blues earlier in the season at Waterview Recreation Reserve but haven’t overcome Kilmore at J.J. Clancy Reserve since 2019. Ironically, the coach of Mernda that day was Kilmore’s current coach in Paul Derrick.

A mouth-watering encounter sees Kinglake host Old Eltham Collegians at Kinglake Memorial Oval. 

If the Lakers can prevail against the Turtles, they will finish unbeaten at home this season.  So far, the team that came closest to overcoming Kinglake at home was the Fitzroy Stars back in Round 5 when they lost by 10 points.

With the Lakers boasting such an imposing home record, it will be a tall order for Old Eltham Collegians.  But the Turtles looked impressive in their clash with Kinglake back in Round 6 at Eltham College when Kinglake suffered their biggest defeat of the season in a 40-point loss.

All looks set up for a wonderful spectacle. If the Turtles win, they will be well on the way to lock away a finals berth, albeit still relying on other results to go their way.  Likewise, the Lakers would also move a step closer to the double chance if they can clean-sweep their home games.

While the top teams vie for spots in the top four, a big crowd is expected to see Lalor taking on Reservoir at Crispe Park. 

The Bloods have not won a game since 2021 but have gone extremely close twice this season. They went down to the Mustangs at Lalor Reserve by two points in Round 6 and lost to the Stars by three points at the same venue in Round 10.

While the Bloods have shown they are close to a win, Reservoir has also shown some good signs in the second half of the season. 

Their best effort was when they fell short to Kinglake at Crispe Park by 37 points in Round 10. This bettered losses by triple-figure margins against all top-four teams in the first half of the season.

As a guide to each side’s steady improvement, Reservoir’s percentage for 2022 was 14.23 and is now 18.89, while Lalor’s percentage has risen from 12.72 to 16.84.

Both teams will be looking to move towards being competitive with teams higher up the ladder on a regular basis in the near future.

Lalor could actually climb off the bottom of the ladder with a win of around 40 points, but that won’t be in the minds of fans of the Bloods, they will just want the four points.

Similarly, it would bring great joy to Mustangs fans if they can complete the double this season and make it five wins against Lalor in the last two seasons.

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