Cessnock blew early domination and a 12-point lead to lose by two points to unbeaten Newcastle RL competition leaders Wyong on Sunday.
"We were our own worst enemy," Goannas coach Todd Edwards conceded after the match in which his young charges showed they are genuine contenders in 2020.
Tries to Cody Boyle and Aaiden Wright in the closing 10 minutes helped Wyong get across the line, downing the Goannas 20-18.
Brayden Musgrove scored a double for Cessnock and had a hand in the opening try when his off-load set up skipper Reed Hugo. Seaton Reid was on target converting all three shots on goal.
"The first 25 minutes was good but we struggled after that. We lost all our momentum and just couldn't get it back through poor handling," Edwards said.
"We led 12-nil and were fairly dominant early, but poor ball control put us under a lot of defensive pressure.
"We had our opportunities and didn't take them and we put ourselves under pressure and paid the price.
"It was a similar game to Souths (a 12-8 loss in round two), it was tight and our control of the footy just let us down."
Edwards said games like Sunday were part of the maturing process for a young team.
"We've got some older blokes in the group but overall we're pretty young," he said.
"As part of development they make some poor decisions with the footy and they are getting caught in other areas of the game where they are learning on the run in first grade footy.
"But it was a really good contest between two quality footy teams.
"In the end they were probably a bit better than us in the ruck. We are a work in progress with that and are doing a lot of work with it, but we need to be better."
Josh Griffiths was the stand out for the Goannas at right centre with Reed Hugo and Harvey Neville both strong performers.
"Overall it was a pretty good performance from the whole 17. We got beaten on the scoreboard but we weren't far away," Edwards said.
"We've got a week off and then we've got Maitland at Maitland, another week off and finish the home and away against Lakes.
"Hopefully win our next two and put ourselves in a good position when the new comp (finals) starts in October."
Cessnock's reserve grade found the going tough at Wyong, smashed 68-4 by the unbeaten competition leaders.
Wyong's greater depth has tested most reserve sides. The Goannas have two weeks off before they host Kurri Kurri in a Coalfields derby.
In Blues Tag, Wyong defeated Cessnock 66-0. The Goannas have a bye next week before the travel to Maitland on September 12.
Bulldogs miss their chance to break clear
The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs missed their chance to establish a two-game break on their rivals for fourth spot on the Newcastle RL reserve grade ladder with an 18-12 loss to Western Suburbs at Kurri Kurri Sportsground on Saturday.
Instead the Bulldogs hold onto fourth place on goal difference equal on eight points with the Rosellas and Central Newcastle who jumped to sixth with an unexpected 18-4 win against Lakes United.
There is a bye in reserve grade next week, with Kurri to host Central on September 12 before a Coalfields derby at Cessnock on September 19 and Wests away in the final round.
Kurri's fate is still very much in their own hands and they should be confident of securing a spot in the finals.
The Bulldogs under-19s had another agonisingly close loss to a top four opponent losing 22-18 to fourth-placed Wests on Saturday.
The young Bulldogs lost by six points (18-12) to top of the table Souths in round five and by eight points to Lakes United (22-14) in round two.
Kurri have just two wins and sit second last, but four of their fives losses have been by 10 points or less. Their most significant loss was a 44-8 hammering by second-placed Central Newcastle.
They have a bye next week.
Kurri Kurri's Blues Tag team had a day to forget, smashed 50-0 by Western Suburbs. The Bulldogs are still without a win and will look to reset after the bye this week.