NORTH Coast will have to do it the hard way to progress to the knockout stage of the under-23 Country Championships following a 26-20 loss to Greater Northern on Saturday.
Kempsey's Owen Blair crossed for a double, but it wasn't enough for the Bulldogs who started the game on fire.
Coach Dean Hurrell lamented the match as one that got away although he conceded his team only had themselves to blame.
"There were probably three play the balls where we didn't put our foot on the ball and they were cracking down on that and we lost the ball in possession," he said.
"There's probably 60 or 70 of them in a game and they got penalised once for it, but we copped it three times and we were the unlucky ones that got pinged for it."
"We had our chances in the second half and blew them."
Hurrell said it was disappointing the Bulldogs could only have one more game for players to press for selection in the Country under-23 side.
"We've got blokes this year who could easily crack into that side," he said.
"They know they could have won that one (on Saturday), but that's footy and they'll have to wear it.
"It's a learning curve, but if we had have won we'd only have to win this weekend and be guaranteed a spot in the top four, but now we've got to do it the hard way."
Hurrell said Blair, Willie Baker, Daniel Lavender, Riley Glover and Shannon Ellem were the Bulldogs' best.
"Shannon is our captain and leader and he broke his nose so we lost him 10 minutes into the second half which didn't help," he said.
The Bulldogs head to Maitland Sportsground for Saturday's clash with Newcastle and Hunter who were defeated 26-18 by Riverina.
"It's the same region we played and beat last year," Hurrell said.
"They looked similar to us last weekend and have a bit of flare similar to us."
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