A wasteful Kyabram shook off a fierce challenge from Shepparton to secure its 34th consecutive victory on Saturday.
The Bears took the game up to the reigning premier for much of the contest, with their pressure around the ball carrier immense, but could not engineer enough scoreboard pressure to topple the best side in the competition.
The Bombers began in almost lacklustre fashion, missing six easy shots on goal while their opponent slotted three majors at the other end of Deakin Reserve.
Either side of the first change Kyabram finally found the middle of the big sticks to swing the momentum back its way, firstly thanks to a strong mark and conversion from Hayden Gemmill in the final stages of the opening term and secondly through some Brad Edwards brute strength.
The midfielder hunted the football at the opening bounce of the second term, bursting out of the scrimmage before roosting an unbelievable torpedo that sailed the best part of 70m prior to finding its way through the goal posts.
Fierce and frenetic football followed as the level of intensity lifted across the ground, but when the dust settled at half-time it was Kyabram that had taken control with four unanswered goals for the quarter.
To Shepparton’s credit it never stopped trying and through some great work from captain Ted Lindon down back it began to claw its way back into the match.
The semi-revival threatened to morph into a giant-killing upset when, only a minute into the final term, Sam Dunstan rose above his direct opponent to secure a towering contested mark just inside his team’s forward arc.
Before Kyabram’s defensive unit could reset the big man found young Joel Brett in space, who dutifully kicked truly for his second goal of the game, bringing the deficit back to just five points.
However, rather than spurring on the home side the goal seemed to awaken the Bombers from another mini-slumber, with Billy Burstin and Kayne Pettifer majors providing their side with enough breathing space to see out the game.
‘‘They (Shepparton) won some big moments and we did too, so it was a good arm wrestle and a really good solid hit-out and you know, one versus two, you wouldn’t expect anything different in the end,’’ Kyabram coach Paul Newman said.
‘‘I think we probably just let ourselves down a little bit at times with just turning the ball over by hand and by foot, especially by hand in close, but they take credit for that with their pressure and all that sort of stuff as well, similar to the Euroa game, so we can take a lot out of that game and at the end of the day it was just nice to grind out a solid win.’’
Burstin’s goal, his second of the clash, came after a huge collision of bodies at the 10-minute mark of the final term and had him take no further part in the contest.
The gun had also left the field just before half-time holding his wrist, but returned after the break and continued to be the most influential player on the field.
Newman praised Burstin’s efforts after the game, but said his superstar would be put on ice during the next couple of weeks if there was any chance of further damage.
‘‘I think Billy Burstin was fantastic,’’ he said.
‘‘He’s just a bit winded and got a bit of bruising I think, so we expect him to be right, but if there’s any risk moving forward we’ll be very cautious with him in making sure he’s right to go.’’
With some of his more consistent performers having down days, Newman was also happy with the increased output of some of his other soldiers.
‘‘We had some guys down, but we also had some guys stand up, I thought Hayden Gemmill was really lively up forward with Kayne (Pettifer) and Kyle (Mueller) held pretty quiet, he took a couple of nice marks and kicked a couple of nice goals,’’ he said.
‘‘Tom Holman and Liam Barrett were super in defence, we’ve still got a bit of upside, obviously we missed big Reevesy (Jake Reeves) in the ruck, but Zac (Norris) is doing a terrific job of competing, as a 19-year-old kid competing as hard as he does is a real credit to himself.’’
For Shepparton coach Brad Campbell, his side’s performance provided positives and negatives moving forward.
‘‘A lot of the time we had a fair bit of the ball and were well and truly in the game, I think we’ve improved a bit from the first time we faced them, so all in all it was pretty positive,’’ he said.
‘‘It was a bit disappointing that we couldn’t do better though, I thought we had the opportunity to get a bit closer so we’ve still got a fair bit to go.’’
The only injury concern for the Bears was James Lloyd, who hyperextended his knee and is expected to miss two to four weeks.