The Macleay Valley Mustangs will be forced to wait until the final round of the Group Three Rugby League season to clinch the minor premiership after they suffered a 30-22 defeat to the Wauchope Blues.
In a momentum swinging match, errors hampered both sides but Wauchope showed more patience in the attacking third and were ultimately rewarded with the two competition points.
The Mustangs had their opportunities but they bombed four tries in a frustrating first half.
Stephan Blair threw a forward pass to an unmarked Nate Welsh, David Davis was unable to control a cross field kick in the Wauchope's in-goal area, Joseph Barber was held up over the line and Conrad Lardner knocked on in the in-goal all within the first 20-minutes of the contest.
The Mustangs were eventually first to score as forward Adam McMurray barged his way over but the missed chances proved costly as Wauchope scored three tries on the trot to take a 16-6 lead.
Macleay Valley were able to end the first half on a high note as they showcased their attacking flair and ability to turn a game on its head in an instant.
On the back of a barnstorming run from Isiah Barker, the Wauchope defence collapsed, which gave space for Barker to deliver a short ball to fullback Jeremy Taylor, who sprinted through a whole in the defence.
Taylor was brought down by the Wauchope fullback but he managed to get his arms free before hitting the ground and offloaded to five-eighth Stephan Blair.
The x-factor player wrong footed scrambling Wauchope defenders and found an unmarked Ritchie Roberts, who dove over to complete the scintillating attacking play and reduce the deficit to 16-12 at the break.
The second half began with the Mustangs maintaining momentum.
Backrower Chris Piper was rewarded for his hard work, as he palmed off numerous defenders on his way to the try line. The resulting conversion gave the Mustangs an 18-16 lead.
Macleay Valley gave themselves a converted try cushion when halfback Tyreece Sines wrapped around Conrad Lardner to create an extra man and put winger David Davis over in the corner.
But Wauchope, who were previously winless since round seven, lifted to another gear for the final 20-minutes.
Two tries in quick succession saw them reinstate a six point lead and their tireless defence frustrated the Mustangs.
Wauchope iced the game when they converted a penalty goal from 30m out with three minutes remaining.
The Mustangs rolled the dice with their final attacking raid but the Blues defence held firm.
Macleay Valley will need to earn a victory over the bottom-placed Taree City Bulls in the final round to lift the minor premiership and secure a home major semi-final on Sunday August 11.
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