After sneaking under the radar through pre-season, Benalla has announced itself as a clear Goulburn Valley League finals candidate with a quality opening two rounds of football.
The Saints were challenged early in a 39-point win against Shepparton United, but lifted particularly in a dynamic second term, where a 4.7 return built them a 37-point half-time lead.
Again the Demons were by no means out of their depth for three quarters, but one poor quarter cost them a chance to compete for the points.
Benalla kicked the first goal of the day, but United importantly responded with the next two to establish itself in the contest.
But while the Saints wrestled back the lead at quarter-time, they blew the Demons out of the water in the second with 11 unanswered scoring shots.
A 37-point half-time edge meant Benalla was well in control of the match.
Saints playing coach Luke Morgan said the main battle of the day was fighting through extraordinary weather conditions.
‘‘It was a really gritty game, played in horrendous conditions,’’ he said.
‘‘The conditions took a turn in the second quarter, there was horizontal rain and hail, for pretty much the whole quarter.
‘‘So it’s very pleasing to get away with a good win in those conditions.’’
Jamie Dunne continued a blistering start to the year, backing up three goals in round one with another four against the Demons.
James Martyn was also his typical prolific self, impressing across the ground and up forward with two goals.
‘‘The midfield battle was intense, we lost James Marchbank to an ankle injury, and his back-up Cody Crawford did really well,’’ Morgan said.
‘‘I thought our midfield was serviceable, but the efficiency of our forward line, led by Jamie Dunne, was really good.
‘‘Our half-backs too, guys like Tom Bennett and Charlie Morrison, were able to repel them.’’
United’s Jack Norman kicked two goals for the third week in a row, while ruck Shane Neaves was named his side’s best.
Demons coach Stephen Scott said it was good to see his team keep fighting after the second-quarter lapse.
‘‘We probably just didn’t use the wind in the first quarter, and got outplayed in the second when they got that five to six goal buffer,’’ he said.
‘‘We matched them after that and it was a good effort by the boys.
‘‘It’s good to see when sides do kick four or five goals we’re not lying down and letting it turn into a 60 or 70-point loss.
‘‘We really worked on our starts this week and we got that right, but then we dropped off.’’
While impressive in the opening fortnight, the Saints are yet to face top-line opposition and will be in for a massive test next Saturday facing the machine that is Kyabram.
Not getting carried away after two wins, Morgan said he had expected a start like his side had made.
‘‘We’re quietly confident with our list, it’s fairly similar to last year with a couple of guys like (Jake) Pallpratt and (Jarrod) Bannister not there,’’ he said.
‘‘Our core group has stayed the same, but we’ve moved guys on in terms of experience.
‘‘They’re just getting better with games, and playing consistent GV footy, that’s where the growth is coming from.’’
For United, after three gutsy showings against finalists from last year, the challenges just keep coming with a trip to Echuca on Saturday night.