The Macleay Valley Mustangs fell agonisingly short of hosting a Group Three Rugby League grand final as they suffered a 28-26 defeat to the Wauchope Blues.
The minor premiers trailed by two-points for the final 25-minutes but weren't able to find a match winner.
After an exciting first half, the standard of play dropped in a stop-start second 40 minutes which was full of errors and injuries.
The slow pace favoured Wauchope, as they were able to wind down the clock and prevent Macleay Valley from building momentum.
Questionable kicks, errors and silly penalties were the Mustangs' achilles heel in the second half.
There were periods when they threatened the Wauchope line but they weren't able to maintain the pressure and turn it into points.
The Mustangs had a perfect start to the contest as they marched down the field on the back of a penalty and captain Richie Roberts barged his way over from close range to open the scoring.
The celebrations were short lived though as an error from the resulting kick off allowed Wauchope to hit back through centre Beau White to make the score 6-4.
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On the back of a surging 40 metre run from backrower Chris Piper, who caused havoc all afternoon, five-eighth Stephan Blair put in a cross field kick which Conrad Lardner pounced on to extend the lead to 12-4.
However, the momentum swung in favour of the away side as the Mustangs were starved of possession.
Wauchope raced in for three tries, two of which were darts out of dummy half from close range, to take a 22-12 lead into the final 5-minutes of the first half.
Staring in the face of a double digit deficit at half time, Roberts produced arguably the shot of the season as he folded a Wauchope player in half and forced an error.
The tireless forward backed up the effort with a barnstorming run that saw him bump off four defenders and grab his second try.
Wauchope's decision to opt for a short kick off proved costly as the Mustangs were successful in gathering the ball and three plays later, Owen Blair crossed in the corner.
The scintillating fullback received the ball near the halfway line in the middle of the field and put the afterburners on to get on the outside of the Wauchope defence and sprint down the sideline to score in the 40th minute.
The half-time break brought life back into Wauchope and after receiving a penalty in their first set, they crossed for a try after the Blues halfback Tristan Scott, who had a hand in most of Wauchope's points, broke the line and found a teammate on the inside who took the lead to 28-20.
The Mustangs answered through player-coach Russell Lardner, who received an offload from Tyler Roberts close to the line and managed to beat two defenders on his way to scoring.
Neither side was able to trouble the scoring over the final 24-minutes, as stoppages restricted opportunities.
Wauchope will now host the Group Three Rugby League grand finals in a fortnights time while the Mustangs will take on the Port City Breakers in a preliminary final next week.
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