Temora staked a claim for premiership favouritism on Saturday with a commanding 56-point win against East Wagga-Kooringal at Gumly.
The Kangaroos’ confidence is high ahead of finals after arguably their best performance of the season – an 18.10 (118) to 10.2 (62) victory that puts rivals on notice.
The Hawks picked up an extra headache in their bid to make the finals with forward Billy Carey reported for striking and in danger of missing their winner-takes-fifth encounter against the Northern Jets next week.
But Temora know their destiny – a qualifying final against North Wagga in a fortnight.
“We’re stringing it together at this time of year which is exciting, especially when you know you’re playing finals,” Temora coach Jake Wooden said.
“To be honest, we’ve got a red-hot crack at this. On our day, we’ll be hard to beat.”
Wooden insisted they won’t take their eye off the ball in next week’s final round match against Coleambally, saying he’s looking for a four-quarter effort to keep building momentum.
He rated the game at Gumly their best team effort of the season, highlighted by a brilliant performance from Mark Breust who was up and about from the start, and finished with six goals.
“I reckon that was Mark’s best game of the year – he got a lot of the footy,” Wooden said.
The centre-half-forward kicked the first of the game and had two by quarter time, when the Roos led by 25 points.
Returning forward Matt Wallis, leading goalkicker Matt Harpley and small forwards Damien Ponting and Sam Jensen were all on the sheet before the Hawks were off the mark as Temora dominated until seven minutes into the second quarter.
But EWK launched an admirable challenge, kicking six goals to Temora’s two in the next 20 minutes of play, narrowing the margin to 14 points at half-time.
But the Kangaroos upped the pressure again after half-time and took their reward, with Breust bringing up his half-dozen in three quarters, as they opened up a 49-point lead.
Fellow forwards Matt Wallis and Matt Harpley had kicked three each before the game was out, working nicely in tandem again in their first game together in more than two years.
“It was good to see Matt get his hands on it,” Wooden said. “Eighteen months out of the game, kicked three goals and a big target up forward – he takes a good defender – so it was good to see him get through the game.”
The Hawks hang onto fifth by less than one percentage point. They were helped by kicking just two behinds – both in the last 10 minutes of the game, when they already kicked nine straight goals.
Nathan Scott was superb for the home side while Chris Gordon and Ben Absolum did their best to lift them back into the game, and Brocke Argus finished with three goals.
But the absence of injured full-back Tim Smith was particularly noticeable against a powerful forward line. And Carey’s yellow card for striking Dan Reid just before three-quarter-time might leave them with a hole at the other end next week.