Benalla All Blacks signalled their intent to finish the season on a high by comfortably accounting for Bonnie Doon by 56 points at Friendlies Oval on Saturday.
Following an eight-point loss to Bonnie Doon earlier in the season, it was sweet retribution for the Panthers, who completely overhauled the score in the second meeting of the two teams.
And as Benalla coach Harry Moran addressed his players after the win, he claimed it was the best game of football he had seen his charges play all season.
“The reason I said that, it was the fluency of which we moved the ball,” Moran said post-match.
“We’ve had a lot of issues transferring the ball from defence to attack.”
While inaccuracy cursed the Panthers early, it didn’t stop them posting a 100-plus score, with Jack Ellis completely dominating with eight goals.
“Jack was a clear standout,” Moran said.
“But it was the way we got it to him which was most impressive.”
In slippery conditions, the Panthers took out the clearances battle early, and through Ellis, who was the biggest figure on the ground and a major target down forward, went about getting the ball inside 50.
But the team failed to capitalise on its chances, finishing with 1.6 for the quarter.
Inside the quarter break huddle, Moran put it on his small forwards to find more crumbing goals, stating Ellis’ ability to bring the ball to ground wasn’t being capitalised on enough.
And while Bonnie Doon struck early in the second term, the Panthers soon got the game — and the scoreboard — back on their own terms, building a lead of 43 points by the major break.
While the Panthers looked the better team for most of the day, Bonnie Doon was able to control play for five-to-10-minute periods throughout each quarter.
“We lose concentration and we fade out in our quarters,” Moran said.
“And Bonnie Doon are able to score.
“We need to try to limit goals and fatigue at the back end of the quarter.”
The Panthers were also boosted by the inclusion of Mick Donehue, with the big man lining up after technically ‘‘retiring’’ two years prior.
“We pull him out every now and again,” Moran said.
“As you can see, he is a big physique.
“We look so much better going forward when he presents for the football.”
And with Sam Newton and Kyle Collison dominating across the half-back lines, Moran later made the decision to move both players onto the half-forward line ahead of the final term.
“We were clearly going to win the game at three-quarter time,” Moran said.
“We just wanted to try and have our best ball users on the half-forward line.”
While a finals appearance is far fetching for the Panthers — with absolutely everything needing to go right to slip into the six — their final three games of the season against Moyhu, Tarrawingee and Goorambat are all winnable.
“The next two are relatively tough, but we don’t mind a bit of a challenge,” Moran said.
“We have to play Moyhu at home, that’s hard.
“We’ll go in with the same mindset and take the form of this game into the next.”
And the Panthers should be strengthened by the return of quartet Chris O’Connor, Nic Spencer, Justin Gervasoni and Corey Robins, with Spencer and Gervasoni key position players, and O’Connor and Robins adding depth to the midfield.
“It’ll bolster us a hell of a lot having those four back and put us in good stead next week.’’
●Benalla’s reserves also celebrated a big win of their own, dominating Bonnie Doon by 53 points earlier in the day.
Chris Lockhart was in ripping form with seven goals before suiting up for a stint in the seniors’ backline, while Damon Cox was named best-on-ground in the win.
Final score: Benalla All Blacks 17.14 (116) def Bonnie Doon 9.6 (60)
Goals: J. Ellis 8, M. Donehue 4, J. Hyland 2, A. Jacka, D. Bradshaw, J. DoidgeBest Players: J. Ellis, A. Jacka, J. Bate, M. Donehue, S. Newton, J. Doidge