Cessnock Goannas grabbed victory in the dying seconds of a Coalfields classic against Kurri Kurri on Saturday.
Kurri Kurri's agonising run of close losses continued with Uiti Baker crossing with just 10 seconds left on the clock to snatch a 22-18 victory after Brent Mendyk’s conversion
In a see-sawing affair, the Bulldogs led 14-12 at half-time, and were up 18-16 with a minute remaining.
“One tackle and 10 seconds was the difference between winning and losing,” Bulldogs coach Phil Williams said.
“It hurts. The players, the fans are all hurting, but we cannot seem to finish off games.
“A game of rugby league goes for 80 minutes not 79 minutes and 50 seconds.”
Goannas coach Dan Smailes said the last four minutes of the game had tested his nerves, with his team repeatedly setting up opportunities to score but unable to cross the line.
“The last four minutes really we had position and opportunity and nothing, nothing, nothing and then the last couple of plays we got home,” he said.
“Both teams played pretty good actually.
“This week wasn’t as good a performance as last week, but still to be in the game and get home was good.
“Winger Callum Orchard got most of the awards on the weekend. He did a lot of good work coming out from the line and made a couple of tackle busts as well.”
Match-winner Baker and Bradie Smith both came into the Goannas’ side from the Knights NSW Cup team and Smailes did not expect to have them on Saturday when they host Centrals.
“Another win this week and a week off for the bye and we will go into the second half of the season well placed,” Smailes said of Cessnock’s first half of the season, with the Goannas in fifth place on goal-difference from South Newcastle.
Williams said it was disappointing to know the Bulldogs could also have been in the Newcastle Rugby League top five with a win.
“If we had finished better in the close losses and won we would be well and truly in the top five,” he said.
“There’s a gap now between us and the top five, but we have the opportunity to turn things around and can still make the finals.
“But we can’t muck about anymore, winning every game from now on is crucial if we are going to have a crack at finals.”
Williams said he again couldn’t fault his team’s endeavour and effort but they were losing games they should have won because of an inability to control games at critical moments.
“The end result comes down to that final 10 seconds, but we should not have been in that position,” he said.
“We made costly errors throughout the game and were unable to shut it down when we had the chances.”
Williams said the absence of Walker’s experience should not be used as an excuse.
He said Walker was an important player for the Bulldogs but there was plenty of first grade experience still in the side capable of managing the game at the end.
“We just have to get back on the track and work on those deficiencies and errors which are costing us games,” he said.
Cessnock Goannas 22 def Kurri Kurri Bulldogs 18
Kurri Kurri Try Scorers - T Dow-Nikau 2, P Dinauvoli, B Wyborn. Goals - K Hardy 1.
Cessnock Try Scorers - S Mercalf, C Orchard, K Barber, U Baker. Goals - B Mendyk 3.
Reserve Grade: Kurri Kurri 22 def Cessnock 16
Open Grade: Kurri Kurri 16 def Cessnock 12
Under 19: Kurri Kurri 18 def Cessnock 16
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