WODONGA Raiders are facing another painful rebuild after Corowa-Rutherglen consigned them to the wooden spoon with a 21-point win at Birallee Park on Saturday.
Despite star forward Dean Limbach almost single-handedly dragging them back into the match in the final quarter, the Raiders will finish bottom with one round remaining.
The Roos have dodged football’s most unwanted prize and could finish the season with three successive wins in a perfect handover to incoming coach Bryce Campbell.
Raiders’ players and officials formed a guard of honour for departing five-time best and fairest winner, Mark Doolan, before the game.
He is on the road to recovery from a knee injury and will play for Chiltern next season.
The Raiders are also bracing for the loss of another heart and soul clubman, Todd Bryant, at season’s end.
The match was as good as decided in the first term when the Roos followed on from their stirring win against finals-bound North Albury last round to boot eight opening quarter goals.
Corowa-Rutherglen dominated out of the middle off the back of ruckman Jared Lane and reaped the rewards up forward where a mix of youth and experienced cashed in.
Veterans Cade Mills and Matt Witherden kicked two each and Joe Hansen and Nathan Rhodes also booted goals.
The Roos had 40 more possessions in the first quarter and further underlined their dominance by having an edge 8-1 in marks inside forward 50 metres.
At the other end of the ground Mick Collins picked up Limbach, who booted two of the Raiders opening term goals as the Raiders trailed by 29 at the first change.
More pain was in store for the Raiders early in the second quarter when Mills was paid an off-the-ball free kick close to goal and duly converted.
But rather than roll over the Raiders lifted through the efforts of Brad Hibberson, Ben Murphy and Bryant.
Hibberson brought the Raiders within 23 points when he converted from a courageous mark. But the Roos’ hold on the game was restored just before half-time when they ran the ground and found Kade Kuschert, who kicked truly.
Matt Gadsden was in everything for the Roos and had willing support from Hansen and Hayden Filliponi.
The Roos booted the first four goals of the third quarter to strengthen their ascendancy.
But they were starting to feel the pinch in the casualty ward with Shaun Kelly concussed, Nathan Rhodes hampered by a leg injury and captain Jamie Seymour labouring with a knee.
The Roos started the last quarter with a 35-point lead.
Limbach produced an electrifying final quarter solo effort to boot five goals on his way to nine.
They came from a mix of strong marks and clever ground level play to eventually force the Roos to make the switch of Kuschert on to the Raiders dangerman.
The Raiders pulled the margin under three goals on two occasions in the last quarter, but they were stopped in their tracks by timely goals to Mark Ainley and Kelly.
Roos coach Adrian Pavese said his team’s ability to hold on was commendable.
“We were out on our legs in the last quarter and Raiders kept coming,” he said.
“To hold on and get a win was fantastic.
“We are stoked to beat a top-five side and avoid the wooden spoon in the last two weeks.
“We’ve had a year from hell and had some touch-ups, but we can certainly finish with some momentum.”
Raiders coach Ken Stevenson, who will lead the rebuild after the club recently claimed the wooden spoon in 2006, was disappointed by the team’s first term effort.
“It was pretty disappointing we couldn’t get it down there (to Limbach) more,” he said.
“Corowa was too good in the end and have two (wins) in a row so good on them.”