WANGARATTA Rovers all but locked in a finals spot with its impressive 29-point win over North Albury at W.J. Findlay Oval on Saturday.
On the back of multiple goalkickers, the Rovers are now two games clear of sixth-placed Wangaratta with a healthy percentage buffer.
Five players kicked three or more goals, with the silky skills of young gun Alex Marklew leading the way with four.
Jarrad Boumann, Jamie Sheahan, James Smith and Daniel Archer all kicked three in the Hawks’ most cohesive forward display for the season.
Archer was outstanding with his strong marking and gut-busting running making him best afield.
The former North Adelaide star, who worked harder on defence this week, said the Hawks first quarter had been excellent.
“It makes a huge difference when we start well and use the ball efficiently,” he said.
“Next week will be a great challenge against Albury but it will be an excellent gauge of where we are at.”
The Hawks’ electrifying first quarter yielded eight goals after North Albury recruit Pat Heenan kicked truly in the first minute.
Marklew and Sheahan kicked two each in a blistering seven minutes before Archer got his first from a top second effort after marking on the wing.
After Heenan’s goal, the Hawks banged on nine of the next 10.
The Hoppers’ highlight reel belonged to one man — Jarrah Maksymow — who thrilled spectators in a brilliant six-goal effort that included three third-term gems.
Hoppers coach Jason Akermanis said Maksy- mow was an elite player and would be amazed if an AFL club did not pick him up.
“He does things out there that are that of an elite footballer,” he said.”
Akermanis believed the Hawks could trouble higher-ranked teams — in the run home and finals.
“They were very good early but we worked our way back into it and showed some good signs,” Akermanis said.
“I think we have used 34 players this year.
“The wins will come, maybe not this year but next — we are going OK.”
After a sloppy start, Kris Holman lifted in the second half to give Maksymow good supply.
The Hoppers allowed too many turnovers that benefited Coen Hennessey, Mitch Booth and Cam Bishop.
James Smith continues to impress for the Hawks, with his deadly left foot a huge asset.
The Hoppers received drive from speedy Jordan Harrington and Ryan Polkinghorne, who are improving every week.
Jesse Wellington and Lindsay Musgrave both suffered leg injuries, leaving the Hoppers with a one-man interchange rotation in the second half.