Two teams will play this weekend, but only one will remain in the competition.
After a disappointing loss to Shepparton on Saturday, Benalla’s round 18 clash against Rochester this weekend has morphed into a must-win match for both teams.
Their loss to the Bears saw the Saints drop to seventh, while Rochester laid claim to sixth spot after its 95-point victory over Shepparton United on Saturday.
But with the Saints and the Tigers sitting on 36 points and fourth-placed Tatura also on 36 but with a far greater percentage, the loser of this weekend's clash will be left ruing what might have been.
“It’s simple really, it’s do or die,” Benalla coach James Martiniello said.
“We start finals a week early. We’ll do everything we can to win.
“Playing at home will hopefully give us an advantage, but we just need to get back to playing our best football.”
In what was a disappointing day-trip for Benalla, the Saints lost out to Shepparton by 63 points at Deakin Reserve.
While the first half saw Benalla within two goals of Shepparton, the match slipped from the Saints as the match progressed, with the Bears kicking eight goals to three in the second half.
“Basically, we had our opportunity in the first half – the ball was in our half for 80 per cent of the time,” Martiniello said.
“But our ball use was really poor.
“Full credit to the Bears, they held us up, and in that second half they really capitalised.”
Among the best for the Saints was Nick Warnock, who has excelled in defence this season, while Riley Moran “competed hard” in the midfield.
And Steve Murray had one of his best games for the club, finding plenty of the football, Martiniello said.
For Shepparton, the win sees last year’s premier cement a third-place finish.
"We were rapt,” Shepparton coach Troy King told Shepparton News.
"We've locked up third spot now and have worked really hard for it, it's a good reward for the boys.”
King said it was the outstanding efforts of his backline that kept the Saints goalless in the first quarter, despite them having most of the play.
"We just held and held and held and were able to keep them goalless, the backline was outstanding," King said.
"And we probably only went in four or five times ourselves and managed to snag a couple of goals.''
And after mucking around with the ball "a bit too much" in the second term, the Bears came out after the main break and “got back to the way we wanted to play," King said.
King was full of praise for the efforts of Ted Lindon, who did a number on Benalla forward Brody Webster.
"I reckon the last few times Webster has played Shepparton he's kicked bags of five or six goals — and Ted held him goalless,” King said.
While Benalla just came home with sore bodies, Martiniello said, Shepparton suffered its fair share of injuries, with Jack Wilson (concussion), Rhiley Lau (rolled ankle) and Xavier Stevenson all finishing on the bench.
Nick Allen was also a late withdrawal for Shepparton, while Mitch Brett came close to playing.
Final score: Benalla 5.7 (37) def by Shepparton 15.10 (100).
Benalla goal kickers: J. Dunne 2, S. Murray, C. Crawford, T. Rigby.
Benalla best players: R. Moran, S. Murray, W. Martiniello, C. Crawford, N. Warnock, J. Dunne.
• Despite trailing for most of the day, Benalla's reserves came away with an eight-point win over the Bears.
The Saints trailed by 21 points at the first break, but having turned that around to a three-point deficit by the final break, the Saints put it all on the table in the final 30 minutes to steal the win.
Perry Knox (three goals) and Tom Moloney (two) were the Saints' best forwards, while Chris Bamford was again named best on ground.
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