THE latest premiership tilt of perennial powerhouse Osborne gathered further momentum with a ruthless 53-point win over sixth-placed Howlong at Osborne on Saturday.
After an arm wrestle for most of the first half, the Cats booted eight goals to two on their way to a 13.15 (93) to 5.10 (40) win.
In an outstanding defensive effort by the ladder leaders, the Spiders’ only two goals in the second half came in junk time in the final quarter.
Spiders coach Joel Price was an early casualty — he was accidentally knocked out at the opening bounce in a heavy contest with a Cats opponent.
Play was held up as players waited for an ambulance.
Osborne, which is only percentage clear of Rand-Walbundrie and Brock-Burrum on top of the ladder, has the bye before travelling to Jindera to complete the first round.
Premiership coach Daniel McAlister was relieved to emerge with another four points against a finals contender.
“Howlong is a good side that is fighting for a spot in the bottom half of the top six and we knew we couldn’t afford to treat it lightly,” McAlister said.
“We are very conscience that if we drop any matches in the countdown to the finals we are going to fall back into the pack and be scrapping with the wolves for the last piece of the bone.
“While we have laid the foundations for a top-two finish, there is still a heck of a lot of hard work to be done.”
The Cats welcomed back Adam Gooden for his first senior match of the season — he started the year in the reserves.
The premiership onballer will add further depth to the Cats’ midfield rotations.
Wingman Connor Galvin was the Cats’ best and capped a polished display with two goals.
Utility Darcy Judd is also starting to find form after a delayed start to the season, while Max Baldiserra, Will and Simon Lane were also prominent.
Developing tall Will Lane has shouldered most of the Cats’ ruck duties in the absence of premiership ruckman Hayden Gleeson who has missed the past month with injury.
Des Kennedy medallist Rory Muggivan and Patty O’Connell were also missing from the Cats’ strongest line-up.
McAlister ruled out the Cats making any further signings before clearances close next Monday.
In other matches, burly forward Brad Thompson destroyed the Murray Magpies with a 10-goal haul in Holbrook’s 66-point win while Henty was a comfortable 54-point winner against Culcairn.
Jindera smashed Billabong Crows by 87 points while Brock-Burrum also received a percentage boost with a 115-point win over Walla.