Cessnock threatened but were unable to deliver the killer blow in their 12-8 loss to South Newcastle at Townson Oval on Saturday.
The Goannas had two tries disallowed in the final frenetic 15 minutes and had several chances to seal the game but were unable to take advantage of their opportunities.
That they were in a position to win was due to a huge defensive effort, which skipper Reed Hugo believed caught up with them at the end.
"We just defended so much, the boys did an awesome job, a lot of younger boys really stood up," Hugo said.
"In the last 15 minutes we had a lot of chances, a couple of decisions went against us, but there were a lot of opportunities for us to seal the game earlier and we didn't take them.
"We defended a lot in the first 60 minutes of the match. When we finally got some ball I think everyone was a bit drained from defending so much."
While the result didn't go their way, there was plenty of positives for the Goannas with Liam Foran lining up in the halves for his old side after Greta Branxton (where he was captain/coach) called a halt to their 2020 season.
Star 2020 signing, halfback Tyler Randall was unable to recover from a serious cork to his thigh and young hooker Nick Lawrence was spelled after a head knock both suffered in last week's big win over Maitland.
While Cessnock was guilty of wasting opportunities in the second half, they scored off their first visit to Souths' line after 20 minutes of defending.
Souths finally scored a converted try just before half-time and four minutes after the break landed another six-pointer. Cessnock scored a second try midway through the second half, but the Lions two conversions proved the difference.
Hugo said it was frustrating not to get the win but the young side would learn a lot from the experience, especially in terms of not panicking in trying to win a game.
"We are obviously a pretty young side and a lot of the boys haven't really played together, particularly in those sort of pressure situations," he said.
"We probably panicked a bit towards the back end of the half when we did get the football.
"I think over the next couple of weeks that will change and we will chill out a bit more and know how each other plays."
Hugo said Foran made an impressive start after coming off the bench 20 minutes into the game.
"He was really good for us, he led us around the park well and kicked us out of trouble a lot," he said.
"I think once we get Tyler back, hopefully next week, that will help us a lot having those two steering us about the park.
"Losing Tyler and Nick Lawrence for this week's game didn't help, but the boys to their credit stuck with it and had a really good crack. The loss was not down to any lack of effort."
Hugo said Connor Kirkwood had been terrific at five-eighth in the opening two games, but was such a versatile and dangerous player he could be used in a variety of positions.
"Connor controlled the left edge for us on Saturday. He worked really well with Liam. He is a player who can play anywhere on the field. He is a big boy, you could put him in the front-row and he wouldn't look out of place," Reed said.
Hugo said he was enjoying the responsibility of captaincy and had benefited so much from playing under Steve Waetford last year.
"I'm young still at only 24, but last year when Steve Waetford was injured I stepped up into the role and having a bloke like him tutoring helped so much.
"Steve's had surgery on an elbow and won't be risking his recovery this season, but he's been around the place and helping me out so much."
Souths defeated Cessnock 42-0 in tier 2 and the Goannas went down 56-0 in women's Blues Tag.
Cessnock is at home against Wests this Saturday. Blues Tag kicks off at 11am, reserve grade at 1.30pm and first grade at 3pm.
Bulldogs lose at home
The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs showed they still have plenty of bite with three game losses to near full-strength Lakes United teams on Saturday.
Celebrating the return of footy to The Graveyard after the COVID-19 break, the Bulldogs went down 11-0 against Lakes in their tier 2 Newcastle Rugby League clash. They beat Central 44-12 in week one.
Kurri's under-19 pushed the Seagulls all the way with Lakes prevailing 22-14 in the end. The Bulldogs women's Blues Tag team had a 26-6 loss. Both sides had improved performances after big losses in week one.