Eagles, Saints shaping up for early season blockbuster

HAMPDEN Football Netball League fans could be in line for a potential grand final preview when heavyweights North Warrnambool Eagles and Koroit meet in the Hampden League Live Match of the Round this weekend.

The two clubs, which both recorded comfortable victories in the opening round, will meet in one of the most anticipated home and away clashes in recent years at Bushfield Recreation Reserve.

The Eagles made a big statement in its clash against Port Fairy, with the Adam Dowie-coached side kicking 37 majors in a 202 point rout of the Seagulls.

Reigning Maskell Medallist Jett Birmingham was best on ground, while a fit and firing Dylan Parish (seven goals), former West Coast Eagle Nathan Vardy (six goals) and small forward Jarryd Lewis (six goals) combined for more than half of the side’s goal tally.

Koroit, still defending its 2019 premiership which seems a lifetime ago, produced a clinical performance in its 88 point win over Hamilton Kangaroos.

Midfielder Liam Hoy was the Saints best performer, while Will Couch (four goals), recruit Jyron Neave (three goals) and ruckman Jeremy Hausler were also standouts.

Saints mentor Chris McLaren knows there will be plenty of hype around the pair’s clash but believes his club has a point to prove following some struggles in previous games against the Eagles.

He added the six-time reigning premier was often challenged early throughout its campaigns, adding this year would be no different given North’s off-season addition of talent and experience.

“We’ve been pretty disappointing the way we’ve played against North at North the last couple of times,” McLaren said.

“I know the players are pretty keen to play better and give ourselves a good chance at knocking them over which will be a challenge for sure.

“I think in previous years we’ve dropped a game or two along the way… there’s always two or three or four good sides and a couple of those sides have got us each year no doubt about that.

“But we just play each game on its merit and we’ll go out on the weekend and if we play as well as we can, we think we can win.”

McLaren expects the Eagles, along with South Warrnambool to be among the competition’s leading contenders in 2022.

He knows the Saints will need to rise to the challenge given they face both sides in consecutive weeks, but it’s a period he expects his players to relish.

“We’d like to think a North and a South that we’ll meet them three, potentially four times throughout the year… and to think we could beat them four times in a year, those quality sides would be a big ask,” McLaren said.

“We won’t be knocking back a victory if it’s on the table but we’ll just go out and play and if we win, we win, and if we don’t, we’ll move on and look at areas to get better (in) the next time we play them.”

McLaren forecast a strong defensive effort would be required for the Saints to triumph, given Parish, Vardy, Lewis and co had started the season strongly.

But he also tipped his forward line, headlined by Sam Dobson, to cause Dowie some headaches come Saturday afternoon.

In the other matches this weekend, South Warrnambool will host Camperdown at Friendly Societies Park, Portland welcomes Cobden to Hanlon Reserve for a Super Saturday encounter, Hamilton Kangaroos take on Warrnambool at Melville Oval and Terang Mortlake faces Port Fairy at Ridley Recreation Reserve.