Wangaratta Rovers' hopes of gaining breathing space on Myrtleford in the early battle for a top three finish have received a bumper boost with VFL defender Nathan Cooper to play in Saturday's blockbuster.
Werribee has the bye, while Dylan Stone will also play for his second club as Northern Bullants have the week off.
"Nathan's been given permission to play, so he'll be instrumental for us, he's been in their best the last few weeks (prior to Saturday's win over Box Hill)," co-coach Daryn Cresswell revealed after the win over Wodonga Raiders.
"There's a few (AFL) clubs watching him very closely, GWS, he's an animal, his aggression and closing speed is unbelievable."
Cooper made a monumental impression on debut for Rovers in 2019, finishing runner-up to veteran Sam Carpenter in the best and fairest.
However, it was his ability to rise to the next level which was the most impressive aspect.
The Sydneysider starred for the O and M in its 41-point interleague loss to Mornington Peninsula Nepean, keeping leading forward Keegan Downie goalless.
He was then outstanding for Victoria Country in its win over Victorian Amateurs.
The AFL will host its mid-season rookie draft on June 2, so players like Cooper will be contenders.
Rovers' Tyler Roos is another candidate after racking up 43 disposals in his first VFL game against Frankston on April 24.
"You just keep your head down and your bum up, to be honest, I'm 25 now, so I've been through a lot of those drafts, so it's nothing new," he offered after playing in Rovers' win over Raiders.
"Obviously it's a dream, when you're a kid, it's definitely something you still strive for but, at the moment, I'm just focused on winning with Rovers and North Melbourne."
Roos' immediate concern is the left shoulder injury he suffered in the opening minutes on Saturday.
"It was one of the first contests, I think 'Hebbers' (team-mate Ryan Hebron) wanted to put me in hospital so he can get some more mid time, I got a knock on the AC (joint), it's alright," he explained.
"I had to play a different game, had to play more outside than usual."
Roos has made an enormous impact since joining the Hawks, averaging 40-plus touches in his early games, but Cresswell doesn't expect him to play against Myrtleford.
"I wouldn't think so, he played on, but I'll err on the side of caution, there's no point taking massive risks at this time of the year," Cresswell suggested.
"It's disappointing about his shoulder, but I've spoken to a few clubs about him and they're watching, I know one club went and watched him last week."
Rovers will also monitor former AFL player Matt Jones.
The one-time Melbourne player was outstanding in the first half, which followed a top performance against Yarrawonga, but an Achilles injury severely restricted his impact after half-time.
"'Gatto' (ruckman Shane Gaston) twinged his hammie in the warm-up, so he was on one leg, 'Roosy' hurt his shoulder and couldn't play mid, had to play half-back, wing, so we had the walking wounded," Cresswell offered.
Despite the hamstring complaint, Gaston was able to drill a superb long pass for a Hebron goal early in the third quarter.
"I think Sam Murray will make a huge difference when he comes back with his composure down back, just his run and leadership," Cresswell outlined.
The former Collingwood defender played the first three matches, but has played just one since April 10.
Murray played in the Hawks' shock loss to Yarrawonga on May 1, but has been troubled by a hamstring issue.
Rovers' home game against Myrtleford on Saturday is the match of the round, albeit there's only four games as eight teams 'catch up' to Albury and Yarrawonga.
The Hawks and Saints have the same four-two win-loss record as Wangaratta.
The trio sits three wins behind runaway leaders Albury and a win above Corowa-Rutherglen and Raiders.
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Given only a third of the regular season is completed, it's too early to rubber-stamp the winner for the top three.
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