A week after handing up top spot on the ladder to East Wagga-Kooringal, North Wagga headed to Gumly Oval and claimed it straight back with a convincing 9.13 (67) to 8.6 (54) derby victory.
Saints coach Kirk Hamblin was less worried about the ladder than seeing a suitable response after last week's disappointment against Marrar, when they kicked one goal in a 34-point loss.
In fact, they responded twice. First, to take control of the game for a 26-point lead just after half-time. But then again in the last quarter, having seen the Hawks hit back and challenge, closing the margin to just two points at three-quarter-time.
"It was really pleasing. We had a few of the leaders in the club, the captains and assistant coaches, get onto me straight after the game (last week) about how we had to move on quickly. We didn't talk too much about the Marrar game except to identify where we went wrong," Hamblin said.
"You know East Wagga's always going to keep coming, we talked about that at half-time, and they kicked into gear in the third quarter. But I feel like our playing group at the moment is mature enough to respond to that in a positive way and we try not to panic."
North Wagga switched up their forwards with James Morris to full-forward and Troy Curtis at centre-half-forward. It paid immediate dividends with Morris kicking three first quarter goals and providing a target to bring the ball to ground, while Curtis covered ground all day.
The Saints led by two goals at quarter-time and, while both sides missed some opportunities in the second, were getting on top by half-time with a 20-point lead, as Lachie Steward relished a role across half-back while the rest of their defence was as solid as ever.
"He's been telling me he's a half-back-flanker since he got to North Wagga and I've been playing him on ball. But he had a really good game. He was clean early on and he had a bit of pace off half-back and really set us up," Hamblin said.
EWK clearly missed full-back Trent Garner and that was magnified when Nick Hull suffered a hamstring injury and Kyle North-Flanagan moved from defence to the ruck.
Saints seemed in full control just after half-time, when Morris' fourth goal saw EWK requiring five to get back in front. And they almost did, taking charge after a lapse in intensity from North Wagga to boot four unanswered and make it a two-point ball game.
However, with Hull and defender Max Tiernan, who copped a head knock in the third quarter, gone for the game, and Craig de Piazza playing with a shoulder injury, it was a tall order to keep it up in the last.
Saints upped the tempo and finished full of running as Jake May and Curtis kicked two goals and four teammates added minor scores, failing to fully punish EWK errors but ensuring a 13-point win.
"It's probably up there with our best performances of the year, knocking off top spot - and at East Wagga too which is very hard to do. I was super happy," Hamblin said.
As well as Steward, Ben Alexander had a big game across half-back for the Saints while ruckman Andrew Noack had his best game since joining the club mid-season.
For the Hawks Myles Carroll and Bryce McPherson worked hard throughout along with Tom Pocock at the back and Ash Hard on a wing. Youngster Kyle Hockley earned plaudits with a brilliantly courageous grab in the last quarter, going back with the ball into a flying Corey Watt.
The Saints have been without assistant coach Guy Ward (ankle) since last time they played the Hawks but hope he'll be back next week against Charles Sturt University.
But Dayne Hancock's fears his season is over have been confirmed with scans showing a ruptured ACL, as he'd expected, and a torn medial ligament as well. It's the second ACL blow for a North Wagga forward this year after Nathan Dennis went down in round one.