Port Macquarie suffered a near-fatal blow to their hopes of a Group 3 rugby league top-two berth after an error-riddled 31-16 defeat to Wingham on Sunday (July 31).
The 15-point defeat to the Tigers left the Sharks three points adrift of second-placed Forster-Tuncurry with just four matches left to play.
It now means the Sharks cannot afford to lose another match while hoping the Hawks slip-up twice in matches against Wingham, Macleay Valley, Taree City and Wauchope.
Port Macquarie face a daunting road ahead which includes matches against ladder-leaders Port City and third-placed Old Bar.
The Sharks - who slipped to fourth position after the Pirates defeated Wingham in a catch-up fixture on Tuesday night - also face the Mustangs and Bulls before the semi-finals.
Coach James Kelly labelled Sunday's performance the worst he's been a part of in more than 120 first grade games with the club.
"I watched the video last night and there were 16 knock-ons, eight penalties and a few bad missed tackles," he said.
"You're not going to beat any team in the competition when you drop the ball 16 times."
At various stages already this season the Sharks' attitude has come under the microscope post-game and it was again the case.
"I gave them a bit of a rev-up (at training) last night so hopefully that works; what they've got to realise is you've got to turn up to every game ready to go," Kelly said.
"You can't just rest on your laurels just because you had a good game the week before."
And while the Sharks possess a number of players between 19 years old and 22, the coach said they needed to take some responsibility.
He felt they were often taking the easy way out.
"Other than myself, the oldest player is 26 and the rest are 20 or 21 with a couple of 19-year-old's so I think they look around for someone else to stand up," he said.
"They've got to realise they're the ones that have got to stand up because you can't be relying on someone else. There isn't anyone else; it's up to them."
Port City could put some doubts around the Sharks qualifying for the finals with a win in the Port Macquarie derby on Saturday at Regional Stadium.
Should the Breakers win, fifth-placed Wingham could move to within one point of the Sharks should they overcome last-placed Taree City.
"Our test is this weekend," Kelly said.
"If we lose to the Breakers, but we gave it our all and everyone's attitude was on I'll be happy with that. Breakers are the benchmark.
"But if we don't turn up again we can pretty much kiss the season goodbye. It's now or never."
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