The Maitland Magpies guaranteed a spot in the finals with a 3-2 win against the Weston Bears on Sunday.
The Magpies could finish as high as third with a last-round game against Broadmeadow Magic expected to decide the Northern NSW National Premier League finishing order.
While the Magpies are celebrating, Weston Bears showed their never-say-die spirit to score two goals after being reduced to 10 men and trailing 3-0.
Magpies assistant coach Reece Thompson said the late comeback by the Bears showed their spirit, but he had no regrets in resting senior players Matt Thompson and Ryan Clarke in the final stages.
“We were always going to tire at the end after three games in seven days, but the game was secure,” he said.
“We probably relaxed a bit and good on the Bears for pushing through to the end.”
Bears coach Trevor Morris said he was proud of his team’s fighting spirit, but it felt a bit like ground hog day with another loss from a spirited performance.
“I’m very proud of them, to come back and score two goals, albeit one was an own goal, from 3-0 down with 10 men was a tremendous effort,” he said.
“Jack Barmer was outstanding for us and I thought Isaac Peek and Nathan Morris were also very good, especially with their leadership on the field.”
Morris will stand down at the end of the season, with the Bears signing former coach Steve Piggott, who parted ways with the Magpies two rounds ago.
The Magpies led 2-0 at half-time with goals to Matt Thompson and Dean Heffernan from the penalty spot.
Bears player Michael Holt was sent off when the referee deemed he was the last player and interfered with an opponent in a scoring position.
Liam Thornton scored for the Magpies shortly after the break.
The Bears goals came from a penalty taken by Nathan Morris and an own goal by the Magpies.
Thompson said he was pl,eased with his entire team’s effort coming up after Wednesday’s draw with the Youth Jets.
He said Heffernan was the players’ player with a great game at centre-back and former Bear Carl Thornton put in another top performance for the Magpies.
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