WFL - The Ararat Rats have sent a warning to the rest of the Wimmera Football League that they mean business in season 2014.
That message comes after Ararat led from start to finish to record a hard fought 10-point victory over the Horsham Saints on Saturday 13.12 (90) to 12.8 (80).
The win keeps the undefeated Rats on top of the ladder, but the team was made to work for the four premiership points in blustery conditions which heavily favoured one end of Coughlin Park.
Kicking with the wind in the first term the Rats hit the ground running with goals to Liam Cavanagh and Beau Cosson within the opening five minutes.
The Saints hit back with the next two majors, but with Jake Williamson and Brady Miller mopping up across the half-back and Cosson working his magic in the forward-50, Ararat was able to hold a 20-point buffer at the first change.
Rats' joint-coach Andrew Louder said Cosson acted as a barometer for the rest of the team in the first term, with his freakish skills including three goals and a massive specky on the wing injecting energy into his teammates.
"He really helped set things up and not just by kicking the goals but the work he did up the ground," he said.
"Seeing those things that Beau did, it lifts the other players and makes them also go harder at the ball.
"I think to have that lead at quarter time set us up for the rest of the game, but we knew they had the ability to do exactly what we did and so it was important that we maintained the same amount of intensity.
"The main goal in the second quarter was to just keep attacking."
Just as the Rats had done in the first quarter, the Saints hit the scoreboard with two quick goals to start the second term.
Ararat remained cool under pressure and with Zach Louder and Alan Batchelor combining well in the centre, the visitors were able to score through Aaron Searle and Cavanagh to push the margin back out to 20-plus points.
After 10 minutes without a score Horsham rallied with Jacob Cooke-Harrison and Gavin Kelm each slotting a major to reduce the deficit to one straight kick by halftime.
Midfielder Daniel Mendes (two goals) led the charge in the third term, which saw the Rats kick five goals to two extending the lead to 27 points by the final change.
"That third quarter was make or break for us, we needed to do exactly what we'd done in the first quarter and try and have a substantial lead by three quarter time," Louder said.
"David and I were really happy with the way we played as a team, I would say everyone was good and that's important because if there is a weak link then it can all fall apart.
"It was a good quarter but I didn't know if four goals was going to be enough.
"I kept the message really simple at three quarter time. We said we were going to throw someone back to be the loose man, but that didn't mean we were going defensive."
Tyler Cronin was that floating player across the backline and executed the role perfectly, reading the play well and taking a number of good grabs as the rain began to fall.
A contentious umpiring decision gifted the Saints the first goal of the final quarter before the home team scored the next two and suddenly the margin was just nine points.
Louder said it was important at that stage of the match that his team 'didn't go into their shell' and when Batchelor showed great poise under pressure in the dying minutes to hit up Cosson for his fourth and most important goal of the day, victory was all but sealed.
"That goal was absolutely vital," Louder said.
"The effort that (the Saints) had put in to kick a couple of goals and reduce the margin to then to have one scored against them into the wind would have been heartbreaking.
"Alan has been playing good football, but he probably hasn't been getting noticed as much because there have been four or five others also playing well around him.
"He is really relishing the role we have him playing and he is now not the only one that has to be in and under."
Louder said Williamson and Miller were both solid and creative out of the backline, while Jack Ganley savoured his role up the ground.
"We played Jack on the wing this week just to give him a bit more run and freedom," he said.
"He is a hard player to match up on and he was still able to kick two goals, so he is just as valuable further up the field as he is close to goal."
The Rats have a couple of players that will need to prove their fitness this week ahead of the clash against Minyip/Murtoa, with James Laidlaw (hamstring), James Hosking (calf) and Mendes (concussion) under injury clouds.
Louder said the weekend's victory was a good indication that Ararat is heading in the right direction.
"The win gives us a level of confidence that when we play at our best we can match it with any team in the league," he said.
"It shows that we have improved, but we can't just rest on what happen Saturday, we've got to keep improving and continue to play like that every week because the competition is so even and if you aren't at your best each week you will lose."