WANGARATTA Rovers soared back into the top five after a 92-point demolition of Wodonga Raiders at Birallee Park on Saturday.
The Hawks will become permanent fixtures in the top half of the ladder if they can replicate their dominant second half display against the Raiders, who were powerless to stop the brown and gold onslaught.
Alarm bells started tolling for the Raiders when they botched a chance to make the margin less than four goals midway through the third term.
The Hawks responded with the last three goals of the term to suddenly blow their advantage out to 45 points.
They went for the jugular in the last to slam on 7.6 to 0.1, with Raiders narrowly avoiding a three-figure spanking.
The Hawks had winners all over the ground, with none better than ruckman Shane Gaston, who stepped into the big shoes left by Karl Norman brilliantly.
Gaston had the complete ruckman’s game, dominating the hitouts, winning possessions out of the middle and around the ground and taking 10-plus marks.
The Hawks have a more potent forward line than two seasons ago when they should have made the grand final.
Recruits Jarrad Boumann and Daniel Archer are mobile targets in the key positions, but Alex Marklew, Sam Carpenter, Cam Bishop and Jamie Sheahan are a lethal support crew.
Marklew kicked four of his five goals in the second half to shake free from a succession of close-checking opponents in earlier rounds.
The Hawks had a decisive 22-7 edge in marks inside forward 50 by the last change.
Down back, Tyson Hartwig restricted Dean Limbach to two goals, with star Raider thrown into the ruck at the start of the last quarter.
Limbach wasn’t helped by sloppy supply on the occasions he did get free.
The Hawks had other excellent contributors in Mitch Booth, Lochy Dornauf and Matt Smith, who started the season in the reserves after being recruited from North Wangaratta.
The heavy loss was a reality check for Raiders, who went in with a 2-1 win-loss record.
Jydon Neagle was clearly their best and Jack Di Mizio battled admirably on the bigger and stronger Archer.
Former Wodonga junior Owen Hillier showed some promise in his first match in Raiders’ colours after an extended break from the game.
Their cause wasn’t helped by a hamstring injury to centre half-forward Tom Marlow in the second quarter.
They sorely missed ruckman Luke Visser, who is no certainty to return for a tester against North Albury this week.
Raiders co-coach Simon Bone conceded his team was outclassed.
“We gave a yelp for 10 minutes in the third quarter and that was about it,” he said.
“They ran really well and have got some bloody good players, but we didn’t have a winner on the day.
“We turned our toes up and we’ve just got to learn from that.”
Rovers’ win sets up an enticing Wangaratta derby against the Magpies, who are also 2-2.
The Hawks have had a tough opening month, including clashes with top three teams Albury and Lavington.
Coach Paul Maher said the shellacking was a big stepping stone.
“We wanted consistency across four quarters and we wanted contributions from 21 players,” he said.
“I think we got that.
“We have got some firepower, but we haven’t always been directing the ball at them effectively.”