The hallmark of a premiership contender, along with being able to win under any circumstances, is the ability to absorb an early challenge from a fired up opponent before asserting its dominance on the contest.
Shepparton ticked those boxes emphatically at Deakin Reserve on Saturday to remain firmly in the box seat for a Goulburn Valley League finals double chance.
With a depleted arsenal heading into the clash against Echuca and more troops falling by the wayside during the game, the Bears had to dig deep to secure victory.
The Murray Bombers certainly had plenty to prove after consecutive shock losses and began accordingly, with spectators treated to a tough, fiery contest for much of the low-scoring first half.
The two sides managed only eight majors combined before the main break, but the home team had a slender 10-point advantage after dealing with Echuca’s strong challenge.
With both teams refreshed and re-energised, scoring began to open up in the third stanza, but neither camp could find a way to break the other until some individual brilliance from a pair of Bears finally put the away side to the sword.
At the 24-minute mark of the quarter Levi Power gathered the football 80m from goal, his eyes lighting up in the process.
The defender turned on the after-burners, shrugging off two Echuca players in the process, and found the goals from outside the arc.
It sparked his teammates into action, and within two minutes John Bradaric had added a pair of identical majors — outmuscling his direct opponent in the goalsquare and kicking truly from point-blank range.
The elastic was finally broken and a run of eight Shepparton goals followed, from which there was no coming back for the Murray Bombers.
In fact, the distinct feeling of inevitability during the final term was only broken by a high-flying hanger at opposite ends of the ground.
Echuca gun Ruory Kirkby reached for the stars early in the quarter to entice gasps from the crowd, but it was only a taste of what was to come.
With the game entering red time Shepparton co-captain Ted Lindon sent a speculative long ball to the top of the square.
Nik Rokahr rose from the pack to draw in the mark, going one better than Kirkby and slotting the resulting set shot.
Cries from the stands included ‘‘he must have altitude sickness’’, such was the lift the rising star gained on the shoulders of opponent Bart Phillips.
‘‘We’ll take a nine-goal win any day,’’ Shepparton coach Brad Campbell said.
‘‘It was an even game at half-time, but we got some really good momentum halfway through the third, which was great.
‘‘It was pleasing to see some different guys stand up.’’
Bradaric’s four majors led the way up forward, while Ben Davies, Matt Shannon and Rowan Hiscock were outstanding in the win, which Campbell said came at a great time.
‘‘We’ve had a pretty tough month, but it’s been good in a way to help improve the group and see where we’re at,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s about resetting and reloading now (over the week off), but it’s definitely good to finish this block of games with a win.’’
Echuca coach Andrew Briggs was happy with the effort his charges showed, despite falling away late.
‘‘They were just more consistent over the journey of the game,’’ he said.
‘‘All we asked for was a bit of passion, grit and determination, and we just wanted to find a win in the little things like picking a teammate up off of the ground.
‘‘We did that for the majority of the game.’’
Debutant Luca Molluso booted three goals to stand out in the defeat, while Simon Buckley was again at his silky best.