The countdown to the Tallangatta league finals has begun with the undefeated Thurgoona the standout side in the first-half of the season and raging flag favourite. Barnawartha is yet to field a full-strength line-up and look to have the most upside and the Dogs' biggest threat. The vastly improved Chiltern and Kiewa-Sandy Creek look assured of a finals berth, while Tallangatta appears the only side capable of forcing its way into the top-five. BRENT GODDE looks at how the season may unfold.
POSITION: 1st (9-0)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Has a stranglehold on the minor premiership and the coveted week off at the start of the finals series. Critics of Thurgoona over the off-season were quick to question whether its ageing list could launch another serious assault on the flag. But someone obviously forgot to tell the Dogs. Not only will Brett Doswell's charges play finals but are a raging favourite to claim their third flag in four seasons. Their lofty standing can mainly be attributed to the form of Sam Cross, Jayden Kotzur and Michael Rampal.
POSITION: 2nd (6-2-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: The sleeping giant of the competition. Despite battling one of the league's longest injury lists, the Tigers sit second with a 6-2-1 record and it would be a major shock if they were to miss the double chance. Have no glaring weaknesses with its multi-pronged attack of Peter Cook, Josh Spence, Cam McNeill and Matt Ladgrove by far the Tigers' biggest strength.
POSITION: 3rd (6-3)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Have emerged as the league's most improved side, highlighted by the Swans' come from behind victory of Kiewa-Sandy Creek in round 8. Has also proven it can also match the other league heavyweights after pushing Thurgoona for three-quarters and narrowly losing to Barnawartha last weekend. Boasts two dangerous match-winner's in co-coach Ricky Whitehead and Danyl Woods. The arrival of five-time Wodonga Raiders' best and fairest Mark Doolan could be the icing on the cake if the classy midfielder can get back somewhere near his best. It's a gamble but well worth rolling the dice. The Swans also have the benefit of a friendly run home with Thurgoona the only side in the top-four. That should ensure they remain with the double chance.
POSITION: 4th (5-3-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: It's become obvious the Hawks aren't travelling as well as last season after already losing three matches and notching a thrilling draw against Barnawartha. Especially considering the defending premier only lost two matches for the season last year. While the Hawks' defence remains solid, their ability to produce a winning score when spearhead Guy Telford doesn't kick a bag is a concern. The Hawks also face Thurgoona and Barnawartha in the run home and would need to win both of those matches to be any chance of finishing top-three. A task that looks beyond them in present form. History says winning four consecutive finals is always a tough ask.
POSITION: 5th (5-3-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Perennial finalists who have once again laid the foundations to play a part in September with a 5-3-1 record. But the imminent loss of Drew Cameron who has to undergo a knee reconstruction, is a major concern for co-coach Phil Packer. The Blues could learn their finals fate as soon as this weekend against Tallangatta, with the loser facing an uphill battle for the remaining spot inside the five up for grabs.
POSITION: 6th (5-3-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Started the season as one of the biggest unknown quantities but have emerged as a genuine finals threat. An upset victory against Barnawartha in the opening round could prove the difference between snaring a finals berth. Face Mitta United this weekend in what shapes as an elimination final.
IN OTHER NEWS
POSITION: 7th (4-5)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Have improved this season but still has some work to do before being considered genuine finals contenders.
POSITION: 8th (4-5)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Last week's loss against Beechworth has all but ended the Cats' finals aspirations.
POSITION: 9th (4-5)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Have improved as the season has progressed, highlighted by wins over Yackandandah and Rutherglen in the past month.
POSITION: 10th (2-6-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Have been disappointing after almost snaring a finals berth last season.
POSITION: 11th (2-6-1)
THE SEASON SO FAR: The Saints have improved to have two wins and a draw to their credit. They will fancy their chances of adding a few more wins before the season ends.
POSITION: 12th (0-9)
THE SEASON SO FAR: Were always going to struggle after attracting so few recruits. It's hard to see the Lions belting out the club song this season.
Receive our daily newsletter straight to your inbox each morning from The Border Mail. Sign up here