MULWALA survived a late rally to run out 15.7 (97) to 12.14 (86) victors over Barooga on Saturday.
Lions coach Ben James had said it was an important game to win in the build up during the week, and the sharp shooters on either side didn’t disappoint.
Will Farrer booted seven for the Lions, while Jake Russell bagged six for the Hawks.
“It was a tough battle all day,” James said.
“We had a 33-point lead on them at three quarter-time, but to their credit they came back at us and got within two or three points in the final term.
“But our boys lifted another gear and kicked a couple of goals at the end.
“I said in the lead up it was an eight-point game so it was definitely very important for us.”
The Hawks’ chances weren’t helped when ruckman James Philpot went down in the opening minutes of the game.
But James said the Lions had their own fair share of outs leading into the game.
“We’ve got a few of our senior players out, which has been good for our young blokes,” he said.
“Jacob Sampson had a blinder of a game on the wing and half forward flank — he’s got a lot of pace and a good left foot.”
Sampson was a first gamer, replacing another youngster, Dale Powell, who won a call up to the Murray Bushrangers.
“Dale’s played good, consistent footy for us and with him out we told Jacob this was his chance to step up and he took the opportunity with both hands,” James said, “we would have played 12 players who were 20 years old and under.
“They really stepped up and it was good, hard contested footy especially right at the end.”
Gareth Oughton led from the front with more than 30 possessions, and Chase Strawhorn chimed in with four goals, while Brendan Liddell and Matthew Hendry led the way to keep Barooga in the game.
James said the Lions were now looking ahead at another big challenge, facing Echuca United on its home turf.
“Echuca is going to be a massive game,” he said.
“I still rate them as the benchmark of the competition, so it’s going to be another big test for us.”