MANGOPLAH-Cookardinia United-Eastlakes will have to negotiate a difficult stretch without star full forward Trent Castles after he tore his calf in the early stages of Saturday's 13.10 (88) to 10.7 (67) win over Wagga Tigers.
Castles, who led the Riverina League goal scoring with 71 in 11 games last year, barely lasted two minutes before his day was done at Mangoplah Sportsground.
The setbacks for key players didn't finish there, with Wagga Tigers coach Murray Stephenson succumbing to a hamstring injury early in the second half which looks set to sideline him for about a month.
The Goannas set up their second win to start the year with a five-goals-to-one first quarter, with midfielder Ryan Turnbull booting two of this three goals in the opening term.
After Castles departed Matt Collins was sent to full forward and kicked two goals, but the Goannas will be forced to find other avenues to goal in tough outings against Ganmain-Grong Grong-Matong (away) and Coolamon (home) over the next fortnight.
Max Hanrahan kicked two goals against the Tigers but will be unavailable for those games, while Brayden Ambler is still little while away from returning from a knee injury.
Midfielders Turnbull, Jonathan Male (two goals) and Ethan Schiller all kicked goals against the Tigers, and Rowe said the engine room will need to keep hitting the scoreboard.
He was hopeful Castles would miss somewhere between four to eight weeks.
Fraser Yates also injured his ankle for the Tigers, while injuries to Riley Green (knee) and Dom Bunyan (shoulder) meant the Goannas played without a bench for the latter stages.
"He (Castles) said he hasn't had any soft tissue injuries before so it's hard to stack it up, but having to limp off the field and be basically immobilised isn't a great sign," Rowe said.
"I'd say it's a pretty significant calf tear, but he hasn't had problems there before so there wouldn't be too much scar tissue.
"It's a case of back to the drawing board and we'll have to have a look at how we set up. Matt Collins kicked a couple of goals and would have had a couple of assists, but we do have him in mind to go back for certain match ups (in upcoming games).
"But we need someone to anchor us and to straighten us up, so it's probably likely we'll go back to the well with Matt (up forward) again.
"There's going to be some challenges for us coming up for sure.
"It's important to call a spade a spade, when your best player is out it creates difficulty, but you can't walk around with your bottom lip out you've just got to find a way to get the job done."
The Tigers kicked five goals to one in the last term, and stripped the 44-point three quarter time margin to just 19 points midway through the final quarter.
But Hanrahan's second steadied the ship after Jesse Manton exploded with four second half goals for the Tigers.
"I said to the guys I don't want the last quarter to be the way the game is viewed by us. I'm pretty hard on them, but I'll give us an out today," Rowe said.
"I thought our first three quarters were exceptional, it was the best footy we've played this year and we had it on our terms with everyone doing their role.
"I'm huge on how good the Tigers' top six are. When you've got (Shaun) Flanigan, (Brady) Morton and Manton, guys like that playing well, they're going to be hard to stop.
"I thought it was a tough win and want to give credit to the guys for the first three quarters."
For the second straight week against quality opposition, the Tigers were made to pay for lapses in their aggression and initiative.
After quarter time they held their own but Stephenson, who expects to be out for about a month with his injury, said they can't be content with that.
"We've shown we can put the score on the board when we do the work and we get our style right," Stephenson said.
"But we can't sit there and pat ourselves on the back and say 'well done', because you don't get anything for it."
MCUE 5.2 7.4 12.7 13.10 (88) def WAGGA TIGERS 1.0 2.4 5.5 10.7
Best: MCUE - Ryan Turnbull, Harry Collins, Trent Cohalan, Timothy Smith, James Scott, Ethan Schiller; Tigers - Jesse Manton, Shaun Flanigan, Benjamin Gould, Brayden Bigham, Ashley Bennett, Ignatius Lyons
Goals: MCUE - Ryan Turnbull 3, Jonathan Male 2, Matt Collins 2, Flynn Collins 2, Max Hanrahan 2, Ethan Schiller, Pat Killalea
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