They’ve won eight premierships between them over the past 11 seasons.
They’ve had some classic encounters and played out an exciting draw in their Anzac Day battle last year.
And Saturday’s much anticipated Round 4 match-up between Division 1 powerhouses Vermont and Balwyn certainly lived up to all the hype, with nothing separating the top two teams again at the final siren.
Trailing by 20 points at three-quarter time on their home turf, the Eagles piled on four goals to hit the front halfway through the term and were travelling like winners with the breeze at their back against the defending premiers.
But as good sides tend to do, Balwyn found a way and, when full back Kris Pendlebury took off from defence and slammed through a running goal from 50m out, the Tigers were suddenly back in front.
Vermont answered soon after to wrestle back the lead in the hotly contested affair, before Tigers’ teenager Matt Lee showed great composure to thread the needle from 45m, on the run and into the wind, to tie up the scores with four minutes left on the clock.
With the ball primarily in the Eagles’ forward half for the rest of the match, Balwyn defended admirably and kept out their arch rivals, before the final siren greeted a sharing of the points, Balwyn 12.7 (79) to Vermont 11.13 (79).
Vermont’s inaccuracy didn’t help its cause, but Tigers coach Dan Donati said his side could also consider itself unlucky after holding such a handy break at the last change.
“We didn’t take our chances and get an even bigger lead in the third quarter, but it was hotly contested all day,” Donati said.
“In the end, our boys did a great job of holding on and getting the draw. I know it’s a cliche whenever there is a draw, but it really was a fitting result.”
Donati said he had no doubt Vermont was a top-two team this season and that his side team would also be around the mark again come finals’ time.
He was particularly impressed with the performances of Pendlebury and Jeff Gobbels, who booted four for the Tigers after being given the task of doing the bulk of the work up forward since Luke Barker was ruled out for the season after snapping his achilles tendon.
Lee, 18, is an exciting small forward who booted three for the Tigers, while midfielders Marc O’Regan and skipper Taylor Gilchrist were influential.
Kyle Emley, Sam Wadley and Ryan Phillips each booted two goals for Vermont, with former Casey Scorpions VFL forward Jake Best, coming off a 91-goal season with Leongatha in the Gippsland league, kicking one on debut.
“I’m very proud of the way the boys responded,” Eagles coach Steve Cochrane said.
“We’ve got a younger team than last year, with a lot of 19 and 20-year-olds still learning, so there’s a lot to look forward to.
While big man Joel Perry, defender Shane Davidson and Tom Schneider were named as the Eagles’ best, Cochrane said he could “usually tell when there was a standout performer, but it really was an even contribution by our guys”.
“Balwyn is a quality team, with quality players and exceptional ball use. We are getting better, but we need to improve another 20 per cent by the end of the season.”
Cochrane said Best “didn’t have his kicking boots on” playing across half forward and in the pocket, however he only played half a quarter during pre-season because of injury and there was “still a lot of upside” in his first hit-out.