Port Macquarie Sharks kept in touch with the Group 3 rugby league top two and crashed Wauchope Blues' captain-coach Mat Bird's 150th game celebrations in the process on Saturday (July 23).
Bird crossed for a second-half try at Lank Bain Sporting Complex, but the result wasn't to be as the Sharks cruised to a 40-16 victory.
They led 20-0 at half-time and the margin could have been even greater if not for six disallowed tries.
It was the first time since June 5 the Sharks had scored more than 20 points in a game while it became the first time they had hit 40 all season.
With halfback Brayden Reid steering the side around with a pinpoint kicking game that forced the Blues to regularly work the ball off their own tryline, the Sharks were always in control - especially in the first half.
They had four of their six disallowed tries in the opening 40 minutes.
Sharks coach James Kelly was full of praise for Reid who has had an indifferent 2022 campaign, but who may now be an integral part of their premiership push.
"Brayden is a young halfback and 19 years old and he's just really believing in himself (now) how good he actually is," Kelly said.
"I try to tell him, but he doesn't listen too much."
Two tries in three minutes at the start of the second 40 saw the Blues give their supporters a glimmer of hope of a comeback when they closed to 24-10 before the Sharks kicked clear again.
The turning point came soon after when Blues winger Nelson Young forced a pass early in the tackle count when the home side were 30 metres from the Sharks line with the defensive line retreating.
Kelly said the Sharks would take a lot of confidence out of the 24-point win although he admitted they were nowhere near where they need to be.
"We knew we had to start kicking into gear sooner rather than later otherwise it might have been too late," he said.
Kelly said a tweak to their attacking structures was the reason why they looked more settled and composed with the ball.
Reid and five-eighth Ryan Long looked to shift the ball at any opportunity which gave centre Dylan Adams room to move.
Adams finished with two tries, along with Mitch Wilbow who was the Sharks' best.
"We've tried to play a little bit too structured and played a little bit ad-lib with the ball in front of us a lot more so it's that hard-running and support play," Kelly said.
Blues captain-coach Mat Bird was left to lament a disappointing performance on what was a big day - his 150th first grade game for the club and best mate Ged Roods' memorial day.
"That's a hard one to take. Playing at our home ground for Ged's memorial day, it's a bit hard to swallow," he said.
Bird was again one of the Blues best, but he acknowledged the Sharks were too good for them particularly in the first half.
"I suppose in that first half we just gave them way too much footy and you can't expect to win a footy game and defend as much as we did," he said.
"They showed up to play and they played well too."
At 24-0 after 42 minutes the contest could have become ugly, but Bird refused to concede that the defeat had put an end to their season.
The Blues refused to give up and ended up with only two on the bench when Kahlan Duncan and Nelson Young were concussed.
"We're still hopeful and anything can happen. It's not over yet so we'll just do our best week in, week out and go from there," Bird said.
"It might not be our year this year, but I tell you what, in a couple of years when these young fellas are getting through a couple of years of first grade footy, they'll be strong team if they stick together."
First grade: Port Macquarie Sharks 40 (tries: Mitch Wilbow 2, Dylan Adams 2, Mitch Smith, Koby Smith, Ryan Long, Brayden Reid; goals: Ryan Long 0/2, Josh Lee 4/6) defeated Wauchope Blues 16 (tries: Mat Bird, Nelson Young, Jarren Lester; goals: Ethan McKenna 2/3).
Sinbins: James Kelly (Port Macquarie Sharks)
Reserve grade: Wauchope Blues 24 defeated Port Macquarie Sharks 14
Under-18: Port Macquarie Sharks 32 defeated Wauchope Blues 12
Ladies league tag: Wauchope Blues 12 defeated Port Macquarie Sharks 0
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