East Wagga-Kooringal took one small step towards locking down their finals spot and one giant leap in building the belief that they belong there, with a stirring victory against The Rock-Yerong Creek on Saturday.
Down eight senior players, including Ben Absolum and Chris Gordon, the Hawks took control in the second quarter and refused to surrender, claiming a 12.8 (80) to 9.9 (63) win.
“It’s massive. It’s probably as good a win as we’ve had in a long time, and I’m talking a couple of years as far as a genuine team performance,” coach Gavin McMahon said.
“We lost our assistant coach, who wasn’t able to make his flight back from a funeral in Newcastle, and we were missing our captain.
“Sometimes that’s a tremendous opportunity for a few others to step up.”
Vice-captain Joe Scott filled the leadership void, ruckman Nick Hull rose to the occasion against Lachie Hunter and the rest followed, including – as McMahon put it – “a 15-year old playing his second game, a 16-year old playing his first game, and a club favourite playing his first senior game.”
That was Troy Piercy, Harrison Leddin and Kyle North-Flanagan, who all played their roles in a big team effort as EWK claimed just their second win this year against a top four team.
“You want the confidence of beating some or all of the top four sides if you’re going to make finals,” McMahon said. “We’re not even certain of that, it’s only our sixth win.
“But I haven’t been able to fault the attitude of our group all year, even if we’ve had a few poor games.
“But we know that if we can make it we’re going to be very much thereabouts.”
After an even first term, the Hawks piled on five goals to one in the second quarter to hold a 23-point advantage at half-time.
They stretched it to just over four goals by the last change and, despite the danger of TRYC forwards Derek Murray (three goals) and Fergus Inglis (two goals), hung tough on their home turf to seal a 17-point win that warmed the hearts of their supporters.
“Some of the old fellas around the club… by the end they were in awe of the way the blokes collectively played,” McMahon said.
Hull’s contribution was enormous, earning him the Mark ‘Grunter’ O’Leary medal for best-on-ground.
In the absence of reliable back-up Joel Stankiewicz, Hull did the job virtually singlehandedly, while forwards Ben Perkins and Billy Carey kept the scoreboard pressure on, with three goals each.
Meeting Marrar next week keeps a lid on the EWK excitement but they are likely to have Gordon, Absolum, Stankiewicz, Chris Jackson and James Scott all available.
“The boys have already said they’re looking forward to having them in reserve grade,” McMahon said with a laugh.