LOWER Macleay Magpies’ return to action – after an extended lay-off – ended in an eleventh-hour defeat to Lake Cathie.
The visitors surrendered a 36-22 lead, conceding 18 points unanswered to lose by four against the Raiders.
Sitting in fifth spot on the Hastings League prior to kick-off, the Magpies were in need of a win against their third-placed opponents to boost their semi-finals hopes.
It was their first match in three weeks, having had a bye, followed by a Harrington Hurricanes forfeit last week.
Captain-coach Luke Dufty was back in the squad, albeit not fully fit.
The Magpies started the game off strongly, but two defensive lapses in out wide let Raiders speedster Drew Smith through to score the first and second tries of the match in the fourth and 24th minutes.
Both were converted for a 12-0 lead to Lake Cathie.
A minute later, lock Tom Stevenson burst through for a try to open the visitors’ account
A third Raiders try, on the half-hour, and Will Law’s try two minutes before the break took the score to 18-8 in the hosts’ favour.
The Magpies got off to a rocky start in the second half, with forward Corey Giacopelli sin-binned for a late tackle.
They rallied, and attacked the Raiders line time after time. Micka Webber crossed the line in the 46th minute to narrow the lead to six points. Again the hosts scored for a double-digit lead.
Law scored a penalty goal, as Magpies stepped up the chase, soon followed by a Toby Stevenson try.
Eight points by Law (conversion, try, conversion) gave the visitors the lead for the first time and plenty of momentum.
Toby Stevenson scored a second after the hour mark, preceding an identical eight-point scoring run by Law as the Magpies forged their 14-point advantage with 15 minutes remaining.
But Raiders captain-coach was instrumental in exploiting the Magpies defensive shortcomings and helped his side to score three quick tries – all converted – for a 40-36 result.
The visitors were demoralised after letting slip the lead they fought so hard to attain. Dufty will be keen to see his players regroup ahead of another tricky fixture away this Saturday to joint third placed Comboyne Tigers.