THE Gippsland League returns from a league-wide bye this weekend.

Round 13 presents the first lot of games for the month of July, as time is now becoming an increasing factor for teams trying to book a ticket to the September stage.

While July is traditionally the hardest month on the footy calendar, its importance arguably runs second only to September.

Teams that are able to negotiate July positively generally find themselves with a strong platform to launch from as finals approach.

It’s what Western Bulldogs champion (is it inaccurate to say premiership captain?) Bob Murphy dubs “the July Test”.

But within that test lies a complexity, as finals are still some distance away.

“It’s kind of no man’s land in the footy season,” Murphy said in 2019.

The month presents a further myriad of challenges, requiring players to embrace the grind of longer, colder and darker nights at training, and icier, windier and wetter afternoons on game day.

Coaches will need to devise ways to combat this, and drawing on an event from the 19th century could offer something of an analogy.

Back in 1812, Napoleon decided it would be a good idea to invade Russia. What he failed to take into account though was just how damn cold it gets over there. As a result, he lost half of his 500,000 strong army in six weeks.

If any footy coaches have ambitions of ruling like Napoleon, their greatest challenge could be to come out of winter with as many, if not more, troops than they did heading in.

As a postscript, the failed Russian invasion all but shattered Napoleon’s reputation.

That same fate could meet a number of coaches before the 2024 season is out.


Moe v Traralgon

VALLEY rivals Moe and Traralgon meet at Ted Summerton Reserve.

As if the match wasn’t already going to be hotly contested, a place inside the top two awaits the victor.

Both sides have won eight games this season, but the Maroons hold second spot by two points courtesy of their draw against Morwell in Round 9 (greatest home-and-away game ever don’t forget).

Those searching for a tip might want to look at the fact Moe and Traralgon have each played clubhouse leaders Leongatha in the last two rounds.

The Lions defeated the Parrots in Round 10, while the Maroons lost to the same opposition the next week.

A weeks rest will hopefully inject some enthusiasm for both sides, who had looked somewhat shaky throughout June.

Following the draw against Morwell, Traralgon only beat Bairnsdale with a failed kick after the siren from the Redlegs, and were then four goals down at halftime against a Warragul team with only three wins to their name in 2024.

That form possibly came to a head against Leongatha, which the Parrots won quite comfortably by 34 points.

Moe meanwhile started June with a loss to Warragul, and like Traralgon, grabbed victory following their own post-siren escape against Wonthaggi.

If decent weather presents itself on Saturday, spectators could be treated to some free flowing play, as Traralgon has averaged the best part of 90 points this season minus the two games against Leongatha.

The Maroons may have a clearer avenue to goal given Moe playing-coach Declan Keilty has shifted from centre half back to centre half forward in recent weeks, but by the same token, this might now make Traralgon interceptor Tye Hourigan more accountable.

Hourigan’s speciality has been his ability to drift in and take intercept marks at will, however, much like Tom Stewart at Geelong, if he is forced to play as more of a knockabout defender, his impact could be severely limited.

Moe will be helped by having no Gippsland Power this weekend, meaning the trio of Tom Matthews, Max Woodall and Liam Masters should be available for their home club. Senior vice captain Harri Sim is also expected to return, and was back moving in the last game, fulfilling the role of match day runner.

The Lions have a tough three weeks ahead, all for different reasons, starting with Traralgon, then the road trip to Bairnsdale and a follow-up trip to the Drouin mud pit.


Drouin v Morwell

MORWELL has its turn rolling around in the Drouin mud.

The Tigers will simply be looking to get through this game with the four points intact, and hope their white shorts are still usable for the next away game.

While driving through the gates at Drouin can be naturally deflating at the best of times for any visiting team – yet alone during the middle of winter – players will at least know what they will be confronted with.

For this reason alone, there should be no surprises, and logic would suggest it won’t be a shootout either.

If Morwell can manage two goals a quarter, it might well be enough.

The Tigers have a few players with experience playing on more ‘rural’ surfaces, who could well shine at Drouin.

Tyler Brown would have played in a few mud heaps during his time with Yallourn Yallourn North in their Mid Gippsland days, likewise Harri McColl at Yinnar.

Conditions aside, Morwell needs to win this game to stay in the finals hunt.

The Tigers are currently two points clear of sixth-placed Bairnsdale and Wonthaggi, who look to be planning a run home like a freight train.


Leongatha v Wonthaggi

COULD this be the moment Wonthaggi assert themselves?

The stage appears set for the resurgent Power, who travel to Leongatha having won their last three games to hold a win-loss record of 6-6.

The sharp turnaround has coincided with some expert management on the part of Wonthaggi playing-coach Jarryd Blair, who has nursed most of his first-choice players back and then added some before clearances closed.

Blair nabbed his Collingwood premiership teammate Nathan Brown before the June 30 deadline, while it is understood Ryan Sparkes, who was with Collingwood in the VFL, has committed to his home club for the rest of the season.

The new and more permanent magnets have meant Wonthaggi has gone from looking a shell of the team that played in the Grand Final last year, to one that could absolutely finish outside the top three and still go deep in finals.

A South Gippsland Showdown now awaits, and the Power could find themselves inside the top five by the end of the round.

Projecting further ahead, Wonthaggi plays Traralgon next week, before a run of three games where it will likely start favourite.

If they win the games they are expected to, it will take them to nine wins by Round 17, meaning the last home-and-away game against Moe in Wonthaggi could determine the Power’s fate.


Warragul v Sale

SALE faces a simple equation.

The Magpies, two points clear in fourth, need to beat Warragul on the road.

By virtue of a logjam of teams, Sale could find themselves in the top three by the end of the round, but equally, could also be out of the top five.

In order to achieve the former, the Magpies would need to win by the best part of 150 points and rely on Moe losing to Traralgon.

A margin like that might seem unrealistic, although it is not totally outside the realms of possibility, especially given Sale’s scoring power.

The Magpies have just about as many points for as against this season, indicating while they can be scored heavily against, they can more than make up for it at the other end.

With Brad Dessent at full forward, playing-coach Jack Johnstone and underrated goal sneak Tom Campbell all in the mix, Sale has plenty of firepower in its front half.

The Guls certainly won’t be walkovers, and have shown great signs this season, beating top three side Moe and giving Traralgon a huge fright.

However, with finals all but out of the equation, motivation could be lacking within, so the time might be just about right for Sale to roll into town and show absolutely no mercy.


Maffra v Bairnsdale

BAIRNSDALE has virtually the same assignment as Sale.

The sixth-placed Redlegs make the trip to play bottom-side Maffra, meaning a win is the absolute only acceptable outcome as far as the visitors are concerned.

Bairnsdale has won as many games as it has lost, perhaps not reflecting just how competitive they have been for large chunks of the season.

At their best, the Redlegs have shown terrific form, pumping Sale; and Wonthaggi when they had Sparkes and former Collingwood player Issac Chugg playing.

Unfortunately Bairnsdale has just lacked finishing quality on numerous occasions, and as a result, four of their six losses have been by six, 10, five and five points.

Maffra meanwhile still has time on its side to avoid the wooden spoon, but will likely need to pick up at least two more wins in the last six games in order to do so.

Admittedly the Eagles are under no illusions as to the huge rebuild taking place, and with no shortage of quality youngsters coming through, it might not be too long before Maffra is back contesting in Grand Finals they seemingly made at will during the last decade.

That recent history has arguably made the rebuild easier for supporters and stakeholders to cop, as success is not a totally ancient memory (premierships in 2016 and 2019).

Richmond perhaps offers an appropriate comparison for Maffra currently.

The AFL Tigers are coming last at the moment, but with three flags in the last seven years, there is nowhere near the same hysteria or baying for blood as there was when Richmond claimed wooden spoons in 2004 and 2007.

If another club without Maffra’s success was coming last in the Gippsland League, things such as crisis talks, mergers and changing leagues would likely be topics of discussion.

It doesn’t take much to drive a narrative in footy.