NORTH Albury staked its claim as the best team outside the top five by ending Wangaratta’s brief flirtation with September action with a 27-point victory at Bunton Park on Saturday.
The Magpies squandered a chance to move into the top five when they stumbled to the Hoppers.
North Albury can’t play finals, but has a better percentage than their latest scalp and the finals-bound Corowa-Rutherglen and Wangaratta Rovers.
The Hoppers logged their fifth win of the season by limiting the impact of the Magpies’ prime movers including Jamie Allan and Matt Kelly, and through the dazzling efforts of Jarrah Maksymow and Jason Akermanis up forward.
Allan and Kelly were unable to exert their normal high-standard influence due to close checking roles from Ryan Polkinghorne and Luke Holman.
Maksymow was a handful for the Magpies in booting 5.4, seeing off a succession of opponents including Matt Grossman and Jamie Anderson before the Magpies turned to former coach Judd Porter after half-time.
Akermanis’ contribution after half-time was telling as he booted crucial goals in the third and final quarters to keep the Magpies at arms length.
The Hoppers coach is nearing the finish line as a player, but troubled the Magpies with his marking inside 50.
Akermanis pulled on the same boots he wore in the 2002 AFL grand final for the Brisbane Lions and they retained some of their old magic after the Magpies had closed to 16 points early in the final quarter.
The Brownlow medallist kicked a pressure goal from the pocket which sealed the win for the Hoppers.
North Albury had a slender eight-point lead at quarter time before extending the margin to 20 points at half-time with a goal after the siren from Lachlan Taylor-Nugent.
The Hoppers had great service from speedy youngsters Jordan Harrington, Shaun Mannagh and Kris Holman.
Northern Territory duo Patrick Heenan and Gibson Turner also had their moments, but have played their final games for the Hoppers this season.
Heenan finished with a hamstring injury and skipper Daniel Leslie didn’t re-appear after a heavy collision with young Magpie Louis Vescio in the third term.
The Magpies also had their injury worries with Jai Canny sidelined early with a hamstring twinge and Anderson battling a shoulder problem.
Wangaratta spearhead Joel Harris was mostly blanketed by former Albury player Simon Mitchelhill before enjoying a purple patch late in the third term.
His third goal on the three quarter-time siren kept the Magpies flickering chances alive before adding another early in the last.
The goal came from another 50-metre penalty — with the Hoppers handed their opponents at least eight 50s for the game, plus multiple downfield free kicks.
Akermanis said the Hoppers had set themselves the late season goal of causing grief for finals-bound opponents.
“We spoilt their party,” he said.
“We hatched a plan and stopped their really good players.
“We certainly thought we cut out their impact.
“We’ve got to stop giving away free kicks and the eight 50s we handed them.”
Wangaratta had solid contributors in the Porter brothers, Jade Cleeland and Josh Owen, but coach Mark Knobel said the Magpies squandered their chance to stay in the finals mix.
“I thought we didn’t use the ball well enough,” he said.
“We put ourselves under a lot of pressure and kept making the same mistakes.”