Who would have thought that after two rounds of the 2021 season that Wodonga Raiders would have a finals position all but locked away after with six rounds remaining?
Thrashed in round one by ninety-six points at home against Wangaratta, they then were beaten by Lavington under lights in round two by fifty-eight points.
The Raiders sat in second last place on the ladder with a miserly percentage of thirty and no one giving them any chance of playing finals.
Ten rounds later and with seven wins in that time they are now almost certain finalists and still with a chance of grabbing third place.
During the rise up the ladder, they have also encountered injury concerns with coach Jarrod Hodgkin missing four matches since round seven and Shane Munro missing five games.
The change in form and fortunes can also be attributed to the quality and inspiration of Jydon Neagle who coincidentally missed the first two weeks of the season.
The star utility was serving two weeks suspension incurred from the 2019 season playing in the SANFL.
In his return Nagle has kicked nineteen goals and played in almost every position on the ground and was a key on field leader in Hodgkin’s absence.
The Raiders top three aspirations and chances go on the line in the next two rounds with a home game against Myrtleford and then away to Wangaratta Rovers in round fifteen.
If they were to win both those games, they will be almost assured of third spot by round sixteen with Rovers and Saints clashing in that round.
The hard luck story is the Raiders cross town rivals Wodonga who have lost the last two round matches by three points on both occasions.
So, if Jordan Taylor last kick of the day had of been two inches closer to the right the Doggies would have beaten Albury.
If Steve Jolliffe missed his match winning goal on Saturday in the final minutes well guess what – Wodonga would be in fifth place on the ladder. It is a game of inches.
The positive for Wodonga is that they are well and truly on the rise and will be a dangerous and awkward opponent for top five teams in the run home to finals.
They will however still haves hopes of a finals appearance and should win away from home this week against North Albury to maintain that slim hope.
The loser of this weeks Lavington versus Corowa Rutherglen will have their season ended with both sides having a tough draw ahead.
So, while the top five looks pretty well set the top three and minor premiership is still well and truly up for, grabs with five rounds to play.
Wangaratta Rovers have a couple of things in their favour to be favourite to keep the double chance ahead of Myrtleford and Raiders.
They have already played top side Albury twice and second placed Wangaratta and have a significant percentage advantage over both Saints and Raiders.
It should be all sorted out in the next three rounds with all three sides playing each other.
The Rovers showed great character to come from 23 points down in the third quarter to defeat a much-improved Lavington by 12 points.
Seven goals in the final fifteen minutes of the third quarter was the difference with a couple of youngsters impressing for both sides.
Jase McQuade after a tough start on Lavington’s Aiden Johnson was able to quell his influence, while speedy Panther Darcy Smith booted three first half goals on debut.
What a fantastic day at the Albury Sportsground with Albury and North Albury both wearing specially designed jumpers to celebrate NAIDOC week.
Tigers ruckman Dean Heta was a driving force behind the day and with the support of well-known local artist John Murray they are to be congratulated on a wonderful event.
The Tigers proved too strong on the field, but the Hoppers second half showed just how far they have come by being beaten nine goals to five in that period.
Wangaratta warmed up for its top of the table blockbuster this Saturday with an impressive 75 points win over Corowa Rutherglen. Michael Newton and Ben Reid kicked ten goals between them.
One of the highlights of the game was the midfield displays put on by Abe Ankers (Wangaratta) and Roos ball magnet Cameron Wilson.
The Saints and Pigeons slugged out a tough and rugged encounter at Myrtleford with the Saints two to three goal buffer during the game being the end result.
Both clubs played for the inaugral Mental Health Wellbeing Shield a great initiative instigated by the Saints and overwhelmingly supported by the Yarrawonga Football Netball Club.
For the record the Pigeons took out the shield which was decided by allocating points from all games of netball and football during the day. The result was narrow winning 4-3.
This week is an absolute cracking round with unbeaten Albury travelling to Wangaratta to take on the in-form Magpies who have won seven games since its first-round loss to Albury.
Wodonga Raiders will host Myrtleford in a repeat of the 2019 elimination final and it what could well be the same two sides for this year’s elimination final.