A JAMIE Sheahan masterclass helped Wangaratta Rovers overcome a gallant North Albury by 13 points at Bunton Park on Saturday.
The star Hawk had 41 touches and booted two crunch goals to steer his club to a gutsy win in blustery conditions.
The Rovers rammed home six straight goals in the final 10 minutes of the first half and it was that burst that proved the difference.
But Sheahan’s influence was just as decisive in Paul Maher’s first game as coach.
“He was awesome,” Maher said.
“In the past, we’ve tried to rest him off the ground but we threw him up forward.
“When he’s down there, he is quite mercurial as well.
“His ability to win one-on-one contests is great.
“We were rapt with his leadership and he had a very solid game.”
Skipper Tyson Hartwig also had the ball on a string down back as the Hawks withstood a late charge from the Hoppers that saw them get back to within nine points, eight minutes into the final quarter.
The Rovers led by as much as 44 when star recruit Daniel Archer, who kicked four goals on debut, booted the opening goal of the third term.
But the Hoppers rallied, kicking eight of the game’s next 10 goals.
Livewire Jarrah Maksymow, who had AFL scouts watching, helped lead the revival with help from Kris Holman, Kristian Cary, Rory Feltwell and teen sensation Josh Minogue.
Minogue, 17, snagged three goals on debut and showed plenty of positive signs as a key forward.
North Albury coach Jason Akermanis led the Hoppers admirably, especially early, and was upbeat following a summer rocked by player departures and financial woes.
“We’ve got an awesome group that is so coachable,” he said.
“When you’ve got a young side, you’re going to have to wear a couple of 10-minute efforts, but we’ll fix that.
“Come watch us play, that’s all I can say, because you will be thoroughly entertained.
“This group is going to play some exciting footy.”
James Mulligan look- ed the pick of the three high-profile Hawks’ recruits before going down with a knee medial strain on the stroke of half-time.
The Hoppers also finished the game a man down, with skipper Dan Leslie concussed and out of action for most of the second half.
Maher said the Hawks had plenty of work to do, with games against Alb-ury and Lavington over the next fortnight.
“I thought we played well at times,” Maher said.
“The second half of the second quarter we showed what we are capable of doing.
“Our movement up forward was far greater than it was at any other time during the game.
“For the rest of it, I thought we fought out the game in ugly fashion.”