The Deni Rhinos have made their claim as a top contender after their biggest win of the season on Saturday, knocking off an undefeated Nathalia side by 97 runs.
Despite the victory over the three time reigning premiers the Rhinos still sit third on the ladder, with the top three - Deni, Barooga and Nathalia - all having a win-loss record of 5-1.
Import Zeniffe Fowler (62 off 76 balls) and Andrew Hogan (60 not out) were outstanding in the middle order for the Rhinos, while skipper Brad Todd starred with the ball, with figures of 4/16 off nine.
Rhinos coach John Arthur said the win confirms his side is the in-form team of the Murray Valley Cricket Association.
‘‘There’s no doubt Nathalia have been the best side in the competition, so a win over them is huge,’’ he said.
‘‘But premierships aren’t won in November, so we need to stay humble and keep on working hard.
‘‘We’re the form side of the competition and play Barooga to potentially take top spot this weekend.’’
The Rhinos won the toss, choosing to bat on a batting friendly pitch in Nathalia.
Panic settled in early for the visitors when Dean Edge was dismissed for a duck in the first over, with the opener edging an Ash Quinn (1/15 off five) ball.
With the Rhinos at 1/2, Ash Germano and Fowler were left to steady the ship.
The pair combined for a crucial 56 run partnership, before Germano (18) was clean bowled by Luke Carter (1/30 off nine) in the 14th over.
Fowler smashed his way to a half century, hitting nine boundaries and one ‘six’ before, before being trapped in front by Brayden Summerville (1/22 off six) in the 26th over, with the Rhinos at 3/109.
Todd and Hogan paired up, steadily partnering up for 44 runs over the next 13 overs, before Todd (9) was caught, leaving the Rhinos at 4/153 with just seven overs left.
The Rhinos scored quickly, with Anthony Bradley (15 off 12 balls) and Liam Pitts (17 not out) helping their side reach 6/199 after 45 overs.
‘‘To win the toss, bat first and put the pressure on was crucial for us,’’ Arthur said.
‘‘Zeniffe has managed to score just over 100 runs in two games now and we were able to hold together despite heavy pressure.
‘‘I said to Hoges (Hogan) when he was sent out to bat that I wanted him out in the middle at the end of the innings, and he ticked that box.
‘‘I also have to give plenty of credit to Wriggler (Bradley) and Pittsy. Without their runs at the end, there wouldn’t have been as much pressure on Nathalia’s batsmen.’’
The Rhinos had an early breakthrough in their run defence, with Hogan (2/37 off six) sending Liam Evans out for a golden duck in the first over.
Two overs later Hogan struck again, dismissing a dangerous Brodie Ross (5) to have the Purples struggling on 2/10.
Nathalia opener Scott Morris then paired up with Luke Quinn, and they added 35 runs in four overs.
Rhinos pace bowler Dylan Rotherham (2/23 off six) took the wicket of Morris (10) with wicketkeeper Jonty Tubb claiming his second catch of the day, to break up the partnership.
Rotherham hit again two overs later, taking the crucial wicket of Quinn (27) to have the home side reeling at 4/48.
Momentum was clearly on the Rhinos’ side, with Fowler going horizontal in the air to take a one handed diving catch, giving Todd his first wicket of the day and sending Tom Nihill (8) on his way.
An impressive spell by Todd saw him take the next three wickets, removing Ash Quinn (0), Luke Carter (22) and Clancy Congues (0) to have Nathalia struggling on 8/93.
Evan Pocock claimed his first premier grade wicket the following over, with Tubb stumping Henry Congues (1), before Bradley closed out the game with the wicket of Summerville (17) ending the Nathalia run chase at 102 runs after 26.2 overs.
‘‘Once again I have to state how crucial our fielding was,’’ Arthur said.
‘‘Jonty (Tubb) taking three catches and a stumping was huge.
‘‘At the rate Nathalia were scoring, wickets were a must.
‘‘Luke Quinn was hitting the ball quite hard and Boddie (Arthur) actually caught him when he had a free hit.
‘‘But even though we couldn’t get him out on a free hit, it was good for the confidence in knowing our catches were sticking.’’