Port City Breakers will have to do it the hard way if they plan to make their fifth-straight Group 3 grand final.
Any chance of last year's grand finalists making a late charge into the top three and earning a subsequent double chance at the finals were extinguished in a 22-16 defeat at Forster on Sunday.
They now find themselves five points adrift of third-placed Wauchope with five rounds remaining and with matches against each top three side still to come, their top three horse has bolted.
"If we had have won that we would have been optimistic of making a run at the top three, but that's gone now you'd think," coach Dan Kemp said.
"We'd need a miracle (to finish top three) now, but we have to get back on the bike. It's been done before."
The Breakers raced out to a 16-4 lead early in the second half before they hit something resembling the Bermuda Triangle and things started to go awry.
"We led them and had them beat everywhere," Kemp said.
"Then we lost our way for whatever reason and never got back.
"They out-kicked us and out-tackled us. They wanted it more. They out-wanted us and made better choices."
Port City's cause wasn't helped by the withdrawal of Adrian Daley due to family commitments before Dylan Hemsley snapped his leg in the first 10 minutes.
Jarred Robbins and Luke Sinclair also joined him on the injured list in a forgettable afternoon on the road.
"They won the game through want; it's Tuesday morning and I still don't know what happened," Kemp said.
It was not going to be Port City's afternoon when they bombed a certain try with seven minutes left on the clock while trailing by the final margin.
They would have scored under the posts to level the scores.
"I didn't blow up about it because it just summed up the afternoon," Kemp said.
Instead of having ambitions of a top three finish, the Breakers now find themselves locked in a three-way battle for the final two positions.
With matches against Wingham, Macleay Valley and Wauchope still to come, they're now no guarantee to make the finals.
But Kemp believed his side would still be there when the whips were cracking.
"I'm still convinced our best footy is good enough, we've just got to find it and play it consistently," Kemp said.
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