EAST WAGGA-KOORINGAL coach Gavin McMahon believes the Farrer League is yet to see the best of talented youngster Luke Cuthbert.
Cuthbert and defender Brenton Roberts are the Hawks' two inclusions for Saturday’s game against Temora at Gumly Oval.
Roberts was unavailable against Barellan (before last week's bye) while Cuthbert has been sidelined since the beginning of July with a knee injury that threatened to end his season, amid fears of a cracked bone.
Earlier, opportunities with the GWS Giants reserves kept him out of Hawks colours until June.
So coach Gavin McMahon is only too happy to have him back for just his fourth game.
"He's another high-level midfielder," McMahon said.
"His hardness, aggression, ability to run hard from behind the ball, to go both ways... we're very keen to have him back.
"He's come a long way in the last 12 months – he's thickened up and strengthened up. And to have the speed on the outside and the ball-winning ability on the inside, he's very handy for us.
"I still don't think he's played his best footy for us yet either."
Cuthbert will be a welcome inclusion against a Temora side with one of the best midfields in the league.
His first game for EWK was in their win at Temora – an upset which might yet prove the difference between playing finals and not.
But McMahon isn't placing any weight on that result against a team he's rated highly all year.
"They've been playing well and they've been getting better too," he said.
"I don't know that either side will take too much out of the last game. Both sides are playing a bit different to then and have played a fair bit of football since then."
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The Hawks had expected the return of Temora forward Matt Wallis, reforming a familiar partnership with Matt Harpley. They played together in the 2014 grand final victory against EWK.
"It does take us back a little bit... Matt Wallis has kicked goals against us and Matt Harpley was best-on-ground, or should've been, in that grand final," McMahon said, noting Harpley's five-goal haul in the 2014 decider at Maher Oval.
"And here we are a couple of years later and they're a bit older, a bit more experienced."
Harpley has kicked 49 goals so far this season. That's 21 more than Brocke Argus, the Hawks' leading goalkicker, although Ben Perkins has kicked 16 goals in his seven games.
"Our personnel (up forward) is reasonably settled but the roles they've been playing each week has been different," McMahon said.
"I think our goal spread has been really good. We haven't relied on a Perko or a Billy Carey or a James Hodges or Brocke to kick all our goals for us."
The Hawks are in the five courtesy of a better percentage than the Northern Jets (who play Marrar this week, and EWK next week.). They know the least complicated route to finals.
"We've got to win both our last two games to be assured of finals," McMahon said.
"The Jets are playing really good footy at the moment so every game's a must-win for us from here on. I've said to the boys, the season really starts when you start playing for your season, when there's no more chances.
"Two wins and we play finals – that's what we're focussed on, and nothing beyond that.
"But if we get in there, we won't feel like we're the fifth side in the race."