Wagga Tigers breathed life into their Riverina League campaign with a spirited 24-point win over Coolamon on Sunday.
A dominant first-half performance laid the platform for their first win over a top-five team this year, running out victors 7.11 (53) to 4.5 (29) on a mud-filled Kindra Park.
Tigers coach Murray Stephenson returned to his former home and reminded the Hoppers of what they are missing out on in a best-on-ground display across half-back.
Stephenson even drifted forward late and sealed the victory with the only goal of the last quarter, in what was a fiery finish to an important game for both clubs.
The win moves the reigning premiers into fourth spot and keeps their top three hopes alive. At the same time, it was a big loss for Coolamon, dropping the Hoppers from third to fifth with just a month to play in the home and away season.
Stephenson, who had been at the centre of some attention throughout the day, played down the satisfaction of kicking the sealer.
"It was good just to kick the goal that we needed," Stephenson said.
"It was just the feeling of kicking a goal that we needed to sort of steady us. That second half, they got themselves right into the game so it was good probably just to get that goal."
Coolamon, remarkably after being completely outplayed in the opening half, did get back into the contest after kicking the only three goals of the third term.
It was all Tigers in the opening half, as they opened up a 37-point lead by the main break, and it could have been more if not for some wasted opportunities in front of goal.
The Hoppers lifted after the break and fought their way back into the contest. They narrowed the margin to 19 points at three-quarter-time and had the first two scoring shots of a tense final term, but only managed behinds.
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Stephenson was awarded a free kick inside 50 in the 21st minute and went back and kicked the goal, to shut out any chance of a Coolamon comeback.
Stephenson, in his first season in charge, believes Tigers are headed in the right direction.
"I think we've been building as a side, granted we've had our hiccups throughout the year, but I think over the last month we've been taking steps each week, it's been good," he said.
"It's good to finally get the reward of beating, what we see as a top-three side."
Tom Osmotherly dominated the ruck contest to give Tigers first crack, while Reid Gordon, Shaun Flanigan and Hamish Gilmour also played important parts in their win.
Josh Buchanan and Marshal Macauley gave Coolamon good drive from defence, while Jerry Maslin inspired Coolamon's comeback on another tough day for the Hoppers.
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