KANGAROO Flat launched itself to the top of the BFNL ladder after inflicting Sandhurst's biggest defeat in eight years in Saturday's top-of-the-table clash at Dower Park.
The free-scoring Roos replaced the Dragons at the head of the ladder with a compelling 66-49 victory.
It was the Dragons' biggest losing margin since their 21-goal loss to Golden Square in round eight of the 2015 season.
They have only been beaten by double figures on four occasions since, most recently in round eight of the 2019 season, when they lost to Gisborne by 15 goals.
Kangaroo Flat was always in control after scoring the first four goals of the contest and quickly skipping to a 7-1 lead early in the opening quarter.
The Dragons were able to narrow the margin to four goals at quarter time, but were quickly on the back foot in the second, as the Roos pushed the score out to 22-13 before ending the half 11 goals ahead at 34-23 on the back of some brilliant team netball.
Sandhurst's fortunes took a further nosedive in the opening minutes of the third term when star midcourter Meg Williams reaggravated the ankle injury, which had sidelined her for a couple of VNL matches in recent weeks.
She took no further part in the game.
Despite her loss, the Dragons were able to produce their best quarter for the match in the third, albeit they were only able to close the gap by a solitary goal.
With Abbey Ryan earning a well-deserved rest, Julia Clarke came on to join Lou Dupuy in the goal circle in the final quarter for the Roos, who ran out winners by 17 goals.
Roos coach Jayden Cowling paid credit to a full across-the -court effort from his players and admitted to being surprised by the margin.
"We obviously expected a tough match - and it still was a tough one - but our girls did the job we set out to do," he said.
"We worked on what we wanted to do at training on Thursday night and I think we played our brand of netball and did a really good job of shutting down the Sandhurst attack end.
"I thought our attack end was able to convert the ball that we turned over.
"The key for us was to get a really strong start, especially that first five minutes.
"I was totally happy with the girls' performance and how they continued to play out the game.
"We still had some lapses and we still had a pretty high turnover rate, but it was nowhere near as high as it has been, so that's an area for improvement next time against them."
The tone for a big performance from the Roos was set in defence, where Milly Wicks continued her stellar season with another best on court effort and Ingrid Hopkins shone.
While they did not hit the heights of scores in the 70s and 80s as they did in recent wins over Maryborough and Eaglehawk, a return of 66 goals against a quality team like Sandhurst was every bit as impressive.
Season 2022 recruit Dupuy was a thorn in the side of the Dragons' defence, nailing a game-high 53 goals.
Cowling was rapt to be back on top of the ladder and in the box seat for a break in the first week of finals.
"We have a really tough finish to the season, but that's the best way for us to prepare for finals," he said.
"Today was all about how we react to pressure situations and that was what the girls did really well.
We obviously expected a tough match - and it still was a tough one - but our girls did the job we set out to do.- Jayden Cowling
"Hopefully we can take that into games against Gisborne and Castlemaine in the coming weeks."
Sandhurst coach Tamara Gilchrist conceded the Dragons had been outplayed in a rare poor performance.
"We were outclassed from the first whistle and they just wanted it more," she said.
"They had really strong drives and their intensity did not let up all day, so full credit to them.
"We just weren't switched on and were a step behind for the first five or six minutes and when you are playing a quality side, you can't give them that sort of edge and we just couldn't get back.
"When you start poorly, you have to work really hard to turn it around and Flat did not give us that opportunity."
Gilchrist found positives in the performances of goal shooter Bec Smith (30 goals), who got stronger as the game progressed, and goal defence Ruby Turner.
Unfazed by her side's 19-game winning streak being broken, the triple-premiership coach nevertheless predicted a strong response from the Dragons against Golden Square next week.
A nail-biting series of lower grade matches at Dower Park on Saturday resulted in a 41-41 draw in A-reserve, a one-goal win to Sandhurst in B-grade, a three-goal victory for the Dragons in B-reserve, and a nine-goal win to Kangaroo Flat in the 17-and-under clash.
In other games, fourth-placed South Bendigo overcame a spirited challenge from Kyneton at the QEO to win 50-44.
It was the second close game between the Bloods and Tigers this season after their round four clash ended in a draw.
Given their troubles earlier in the year at Kyneton, and with defensive midcourter Emily Cossar still missing and Ash Gilmore playing her first quarter in a month, coach Jannelle Hobbs was happy just to eke out a tough win.
"They stuck with us ... we'd get out to seven, or eight in front and they'd peg us back, so in the end it took us probably three quarters to shake them off," she said.
"I thought they played well. Of course they have their big target in Michelle Fletcher, who is still playing top netball.
"They pushed Gisborne the week before as well, so I'm sure they will cause some headaches for some teams in the last few weeks.
They were tough - a very physical side, so we played well to get the win.
Third-placed Gisborne made it three straight wins since its round 10 defeat against Sandhurst with a 59-23 victory over Maryborough.
Eaglehawk made the move into seventh spot with a 51-28 win against Golden Square at Wade Street, while Castlemaine all but sealed its appearance in this year's finals with a 59-46 win over Castlemaine.
The Magpies (8-5) sit 14 points clear of sixth-placed Kyneton with five games remaining.
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