Albury survived a gritty start by the rejuvenated Wangaratta Rovers to claim a 19.11 (125) to 8.9 (57) win on Saturday.
It was a case of the winless wooden spooners from last year against the premiers, but Rovers showed in the first quarter and a half how far they've improved, holding a nine-point lead at the 15-minute mark of the second term.
However, the send off of Hawk Stuart Booth for allegedly charging Joel Mackie after a scuffle changed the complexion of the match.
From there, the Tigers kicked 14 goals, three behinds to four behinds, until Rovers' recruit Matt Medcraft snapped the streak early in the final quarter.
"We just knew that we had to be on our guard, we were behind halfway through the second quarter and I guess the pleasing thing was we were able to steady and take on the challenge and compose ourselves," first-year coach Peter German said.
"Our younger blokes were the ones who were able to hit the scoreboard, so it was good team effort."
Teenage debutant Kolby Hennessy kicked three goals after snaring 75 in the under 18s, while the classy Elliott Powell and clever forward Will McIntosh also nabbed three apiece.
Powell was excellent, his ability to burst away from packs troubling the Hawks throughout the match.
Michael Duncan also boasts tremendous acceleration and he again showed his finishing skills with a 50m running effort in the first stanza.
McIntosh impressed, youngster Riley Bice took a series of classy marks, Jake Page was strong in defence, while ruckman Oliver McEwan also played well after boasting just one senior game last season.
Albury pushed the lead to 74 points at three-quarter time before the visitors outscored the Tigers by a goal.
"I was really proud of the players' last quarter, to not roll over showed we've turned the corner, we're showing a bit of belief and a bit of resilience," Rovers' coach Daryn Cresswell said.
It was Cresswell's first game in charge after a superb four years at Wodonga Raiders.
And two of his former players in Tom McCaffrey and Raven Jolliffe starred.
VFL-listed player McCaffrey was the Hawks' only multiple goalkicker with three.
Another positive was the outstanding form of defender Nathan Cooper, while Will Nolan was also busy.
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