A spirited second half effort wasn’t enough to lift the Macleay Valley Mustangs to a Group Three Rugby League premiership, as they fell short of a comeback in a 28-20 grand final loss to the Port City Breakers on Sunday.
The Mustangs won the second half 14-6 but they were left ruing a poor 20-minute period in the first half where the Breakers crossed four times.
It was a slow start to the match for both sides as dropped ball and penalties saw the two teams exchange opportunities.
Individual brilliance from Mustangs five-eighth Malcolm Webster broke the game open, as he stepped three defenders and offloaded to centre Jacob Smith, who dived over for the first points of the match.
The 6-0 lead lasted only three minutes, as the Breakers levelled the scores after Jeremy Smith darted over out of dummy-half.
It was the first of four opening half tries for the Breakers with their momentum built on the back of penalties and mistakes from Macleay Valley.
Tries to Owen Blair, Trae Clark and Richard Roberts gave the Breakers a 22-6 lead with five-minutes remaining in the first half.
The Mustangs grabbed one back before the break as Jacob Smith leaped the highest to catch an Anthony Cowan cross field kick.
They narrowed the scoreline to 22-14 seven minutes after the break through Stephan Blair, as he crossed in the corner after a spectacular offload from Villiame Tobesowa.
Macleay Valley dug deep in defence and forced the Breakers into errors on two occasions when a try seemed certain to be scored, but their defence cracked when Chris Piper went straight through.
Stephan Blair attempted a cover tackle but was unable to stop the forward and he was left on the ground as the Breakers celebrated the try.
In a touching moment, Stephan’s brother Owen, who plays for the Breakers, lifted him off the ground and consoled him, despite 13-minutes still remaining in the grand final.
The Mustangs hadn’t given up though and Stephan Blair dusted himself off to score with six minutes remaining to reduce the deficit to eight-points and ensure a grandstand finish.
However, it was as close as the Mustangs came to dethroning the Breakers, who finished the season undefeated.
Captain-coach Dennis Ritchie, who was forced to miss the game due to a broken arm, was devastated after the match but expressed how proud he was of his team.
“We had to do it the hard way all year, we were plagued with injuries from the start so it was a great effort from the boys to even reach the grand final,” Ritchie said.
“It was a great game and we gave them a scare at the end.
“We gave away too many penalties in the first half and they made us pay.”
Ritchie isn’t sure if he will be in charge of the side next season but if he chooses to play for Macleay Valley he said he would be honoured to take on the coaching role.
“I have a family to look after and I will always put them first but if I decide to play footy then I would love to be coaching again,” Ritchie said.
The Breakers won their second title in a row.