PORT Macquarie Sharks slumped to their fifth-straight loss as Macleay Valley Mustangs cruised to a 40-18 victory on Saturday.
The Sharks trailed 18-6 at the break, but then conceded three tries in 10 minutes early in the second half and the match was as good as over.
Sharks coach Ben Kirkland lamented the lapses in concentration which proved costly.
"Even at halftime I thought we were on top and their forwards were tiring," he said.
"Then we came out and clocked off for 10 minutes in the second half and that's where they went bang, bang, bang and the game was gone.
"It's the same story every week; we're so close, but it's those little lapses that cost us."
While the scoreline perhaps flattered the visitors, Kirkland was impressed with how his side continued to battle away for the entire match.
Then we came out and clocked off for 10 minutes in the second half and that's where they went bang, bang, bang and the game was gone.Ben Kirkland
"They got two or three tries off kicks and that's no excuse, we should be able to defend that, but physically we were in the battle," he said.
"These boys are trying their hardest and they're not getting results. I feel for them more than anything.
"Last time we played them we were nowhere near as good as we were (on Saturday) and they still put the same scoreline on us.
"The attitude was really good, but it's just those lapses where we're not attacking the ball and we're not mentally being in the battle and that's what it has been for a few weeks."
Kirkland admitted the Sharks season had reached a crossroads with their next two matches to shape their finals destiny.
They face Taree City and Old Bar in the next fortnight.
"We've been in with a shot in most of our games except for Wingham," he said.
"We've lost five on the trot now, but we've got Taree next week so the next couple of weeks are really crucial.
"If we drop one or two of those games we can probably say goodbye to the finals."
Port Macquarie's lack of a game breaker was proving to be their main problem.
"They're trying and they're getting better," Kirkland said.
"But we're one or two real class players short and I'm happy with the blokes we've got. They're trying their ring out .... that's all I can ask of them."
Despite losing five in a row, Kirkland said spirits were still high.
"Even though we're losing we're still having a joke at training and you've got to keep having a good time because it's not worth the soreness the next day if you're not enjoying it," he said.
"They feel they're being judged and I said to them people can judge me, but it's not fair on them to be judged.
"They're only young and there's good things to come for them."
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