WFL - For the first time this season the Ararat Rats head into tomorrow's Wimmera Football League contest against the Warrack Eagles in somewhat unfamiliar territory.
The Rats are looking to bounce back following a loss to Horsham last round prior to interleague.
Despite incurring their first defeat of 2014, Rats' joint-coach David Hosking said his team won't do much different as they prepare to take on the Eagles at Alexandra Oval.
"The reason we're not going to do much different is that we didn't suffer a massive loss where we were comprehensively outplayed or smashed," he said.
"We were competitive for most of the Horsham match make no mistake we have got things to work on, but we're not going to make massive changes to the side or change how we go about things."
Victory tomorrow will give either team outright second position on the ladder or even top spot should Stawell cause a massive upset against the Demons.
After going down to Horsham by nine points in round one, Warrack has strung together four consecutive wins and the Rats will need to be on song from the outset to remain in the hunt.
Hosking said what cost Ararat its fifth win on the trot a fortnight ago was its failure to execute at key moments in the match.
"Warrack are 4-1 and have played pretty much who we have, so based on that you have to say this game is going to be evenly balanced," he said.
"They have experience and I'd say that was the difference between us and Horsham they had the edge in experience and I think that got them over the line in the end.
"I am hoping we will be better for that and can now bring that into this game when Warrack come at us."
There are a number of key match-ups that could determine the outcome of this contest.
The Eagles' 2013 best and fairest winner Peter Weir has spent time in defence in the early part of this season and could possibly line up on the in-form Liam Cavanagh, while Ben Harrison may get the job on Rats' recruit Beau Cosson.
Hosking said Cosson, fresh from a five goal haul in the Country Championships last week, will no longer have the element of surprise against the opposition.
"He will get attention from now on," he said.
"What we don't want to do is hang the ball up in the air and let blokes jump into Beau. The obvious thing to that is if they are dropping one back on him it will free up one of ours, so we have got to get smarter with who we deliver it to.
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“If those match-ups go the way we expect, that would mean their third defender would go to Northy (Matt North), so we can possibly stretch them there.”
The significant head-to-head battles don’t stop in Ararat’s forward line.
Former Fremantle Dockers’ player Clayton Hinkley is a new inclusion in the Eagles’ line-up this season and Rats’ onballers Dan Mendes, Alan Batchelor and Aaron Searle will have to work to nullify his influence, while in defence Stephen Phillips will have his hands full trying to stop the VFL-listed Jesse Murphy who has been amongst the goals for the visitors in the past four matches.
“I think it is going to be a really good battle in the midfield,” Hosking said.
“Searle, Mendes, Batchelor and Harry and Jack Ganley have all been going well and we think our defence have been okay and have held their own.”
A positive for Ararat is the return of Zach Louder (groin) and James Laidlaw (hamstring), who have overcome their injuries.
Hosking said victory will give the Rats some breathing room on the league’s other challengers, however a loss will see it fall back into the pack with two or three other teams.
“Every coach every week says the match is critical, but this game — I’m not sure critical is the right word — but I do think it is vital we win,” he said.
“If we drop it we are 4-2 and face an away game against an improving Dimboola...so it is a really important match because I don’t want to go to Dimboola on the back of two losses with questions starting to be asked.”