On one of the biggest sporting stages in the world, the Goulburn Valley League’s best footballers will defend their competition’s honour in a crunch encounter with Ballarat Football League.
It has been a lean period for the GVL’s representative side as it heads to the Melbourne Cricket Ground match-up, with three losses since its last win, coincidentally a 65-point triumph against Ballarat in 2014.
But outside notable exceptions including Simon Buckley, Kayne Pettifer and Lachie Smith, the side boasts all the competition’s star talents.
Highlighting the list is an powerful midfield group — captain Jason Cole, JD Hayes, Sam Martyn, Brett Mahoney and Nathan Marrone ready to go toe-to-toe with a well-oiled Ballarat midfield machine.
But there is outstanding class at every position and coach Luke Morgan said it was an improved unit from last year.
‘‘It’s the same real core group that played last year that’s moved on and I think they’re in better shape than last year, the guys that played,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘That’s developing that side, but we’ve also added to the side and I think we’re in a much better spot than where we were last year.’’
Additions include Euroa’s Hayes as well as Kyabram guns Mick Mattingly and Pat Wearden, Tatura coach Jamason Daniels, David Mennen and Matt Ryan rounding out the list.
Morgan said the great response from the league’s best highlighted how important the interleague process is to country footballers.
‘‘I really like it, as a player and now as a coach I really love it,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘Because getting to this list and the guys who will run out onto the field on Saturday, I think it’s a good experience to develop you as a player and as a person, to be around some high performing players.
‘‘And it gives guys a bit of a release from club football. As a coach for Benalla, I push our guys forward for it and say to go and do it, you come back better players.’’
But while a positive development experience, Morgan made no mistake about it; after three straight losses, the league’s honour is on the line.
‘‘Interleague is a funny system, the last two years we’ve been beaten by not much more than a kick, that’s what it is, it’s judged on one game,’’ he said.
‘‘We need to get the result this weekend to put the league back in a good spot.
‘‘I’ve looked into their squad and they’ve got talent across all lines. They’ve got players that have played in (our) league. (Sam) Dunstan played in our league last year and they’ve got Ben Speight playing for them who played really well for the Ovens and Murray against us.’’
Initially in the squad, Kyabram duo Pettifer and Smith will not play, the latter tipped to be called up for VFL duty with Footscray.
The showpiece MCG encounter might daunt some, but Morgan said the experience of his side would see it through.
‘‘Calming the players down, I don’t think that will come into it too much,’’ he said.
‘‘I think our players are level-headed and have played a lot of footy in general.
‘‘I think we’ve got a good mix, obviously our forwards on the MCG, if you follow the trend of the AFL and the way they play the MCG, it’s mobile forward lines and that’s what we’re going for.’’
Goulburn Valley League v Ballarat Football League Seniors:
Melbourne Cricket Ground, 12.45 pm start. Entry with AFL Essendon v Geelong ticket, gates open at 12.30 pm. Game broadcast on One FM 98.5 from 12.05 pm.
Punt Road Oval, Richmond, 9.45 am start. Free entry.