Port Macquarie Sharks could be as little as 80 minutes away from securing second spot on the Group 3 rugby league first grade ladder.
The Sharks now only need to beat Old Bar at Wauchope next Saturday to secure hosting rights (likely against the Pirates) in the first week of the finals. If they win that match, they would battle Wauchope for the right to host the grand final on September 26.
In a match dominated by the referee's whistle, it seemed fitting the Sharks' 22-14 win over Port City Breakers on Sunday (August 8) at Laurieton would be determined by a controversial ruling from the on-field official.
With the scores locked at 14-all after the Breakers had surged back into the contest, Port City second-rower Jesse Douglass was penalised in possession and then sin-binned as his side worked the ball away from their 20m zone.
Sharks winger Hayden Orley converted the penalty goal before centre Dylan Adams scooped up a bouncing ball and raced 50 metres three minutes later.
It followed Breakers front-rower Tyler Roberts' midfield bomb which was allowed to bounce as the Breakers played catch-up.
With Port City coach Dan Kemp in isolation after visiting Newcastle last weekend, Richie Roberts had his first crack as coach.
But the change in the voice shouting from the sideline did little to halt the same disciplinary problems which have plagued the Breakers all season.
"It was a disappointing finish to the game," Roberts said.
"It came down to a penalty which we shouldn't have given away with the ball and then an unlucky bounce of the ball. We were in it for 78 minutes, but those last couple of minutes we had two brain snaps and it cost us the game in the end."
Roberts conceded the Breakers consistently made things difficult for themselves and they needed to fix it in a hurry before the semi-finals.
"We can't keep giving teams back-to-back sets," he said.
"We can't keep doing negative, negative and more negative things. When we're doing negative things we need to fix it with a positive. It's the silly penalties that are costing us."
The Sharks led 14-6 at the break after dominating large portions of the first half and despite all the field position and possession, they only opened up their eight-point lead with two tries in three minutes.
Whatever co-coach James Kelly said at halftime didn't seem to have the desired result with Port Macquarie regularly conceding penalties and gifting possession in the second stanza.
While their overall performance was scrappy it was their goal-line defence which held firm.
"We always do it the hard way; that seems to be our problem," Kelly said.
"We've got to fix our discipline and our last pass and execution. It's probably a good thing we haven't clicked yet.
"But it was the best we've defended all year. Our first-up contact was unreal and we definitely noticed the effort in defence so I can't fault them for that."
The Sharks co-coach admitted the slippery, showery conditions contributed to the stop-start nature of the game although he said it was frustrating neither side could create any momentum.
"It was frustrating, but it always is when it's wet weather like that," he said.
"There's always mistakes, but I'd love to see what the penalty count was. Sometimes refs like to take control or bring themselves into the game, but other than that it was an unreal game of footy for physicality."
First grade: Port Macquarie Sharks 22 (tries: Mitch Wilbow, Dylan Adams, Hunter Clayworth (2), goals: Hayden Orley 3/5) defeated Port City Breakers 14 (tries: Jake Kelly, Patrick Cooke, Kieran Gainsford, goals: Jake McNamara 1/3)
Ladies league tag: Port City Breakers 12 defeated Port Macquarie Sharks 6
Under-18s: Port City Breakers 48 defeated Port Macquarie Sharks 6
Reserve grade: Port City Breakers 13 defeated Port Macquarie Sharks 4
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