THIS Thursday night's Group 21 first grade clash between the Scone Thoroughbreds and Aberdeen Tigers at Jefferson Park is shaping up to be one of the most crucial matches in the early stages of the season.
It will be, in a sense, a battle of youth verses experience as the star-studded reigning premiers take on a Tigers side buoyed by raft of young stars that have recently made the step up from the under-18s set up.
Aberdeen have started the 2021 season in spectacular form, defeating the Muswellbrook Rams 12-34 away from home in round 1, before getting the better of Denman 24-10 last Saturday.
It may only be two games in, but their attacking prowess has been on full display and as such they are the league's top scorers, 15 points ahead of Singleton who are also yet to lose.
However, the Thoroughbreds are set to welcome back a number of their best players who were unavailable in the club's 23-12 loss to Singleton last week.
Aberdeen president, Peter Fitzsimmons, said he believes the game will be good barometer of how his side is truly going this year.
"That'll give us our best indication so far of where we're at for the year, we played Scone on the Scanlon Shield and we went down 6-0, but that's a short game and we had plenty of chances," he said.
"We weren't full strength either that game, but there's not going to be a lop-sided match between any of the five teams in first grade this year, I think they're all going to be very, very competitive."
Fitzsimmons is conscious of the fact Scone's side will be boosted this week, and expects the likes of Adam Clydesdale, Hayden Topliss, Brady Curry and Nick and Tim Watson to return.
Thoroughbreds' secretary David Casson didn't give too much away, but said he too is expecting the upcoming fixture to be a hotly contested affair.
"I think every game we play against Aberdeen is up there, almost irrespective of where either side sits on the table," he said.
"The first game of the Scanlon Shield we played each other and that was a pretty torrid affair that's for sure, so I'm not expecting Thursday night to be any different."
The match kicks off at 8:30pm, while Denman will host Muswellbrook at 2pm on Sunday. Singleton have the bye.