City United will recall two battle-hardened lieutenants to back-up Matt Nelson for a showdown the Yellow Caps’ skipper has called “the biggest game of the season”.
Re-capped Country Week opener Sam Cardinal and former skipper David Treweek both return for the two-day game against Colac after missing part or all of the under-manned loss to Stoneyford last round.
For the first time in several seasons, there is more riding on a post-Christmas clash between the two cross-town rivals than the Cashion-Lloyd Shield.
Both clubs sit smack bang in the middle of a water-tight middle-tier of teams – featuring fourth-placed City United and sixth-placed Colac – separated by a seven-point spread.
That the other teams in the four-way dance – seventh-placed Stoneyford and fifth-placed Apollo Bay – will both start underdogs in their games against top-four teams Irrewarra and Alvie, has added to the pressure.
The stakes for triumph are high.
Not only will City keep its spot in the top four if it wins, the club could also open up a one-and-a-half-game buffer on its three nearest rivals with two games to go.
But if Colac is successful, a win could usher The Red Caps into the top four for the first time in a long time.
Skipper Nelson, who earned a Country Week cap this week after a standout individual season, said the clash at Eastern Reserve was the ultimate crunch game for his team.
“This game will determine what happens for the rest of the season,” Nelson said.
Both clubs will be as close to full strength as you could expect.
As well as the big-name inclusions of Treweek and Cardinal, City United paceman Lachy Harty will also be up for selection discussion this week after taking 1-18 off eight overs in Division Two last week.
As promised earlier this week, Colac will include star all-rounder Nic Fisher in its line-up to cover for the unavailability of opening bowler Peter Rhodes.
But teenage fast bowler Dylan Hodge is still on unrestricted duty with his back injury and won’t be able to start bowling until next week.
Colac skipper Paul Langdon said his players were fully aware that what happens during the next two Saturdays could shape the club’s run at a drought-breaking finals campaign.