The Macleay Valley Mustangs are never out of a game.
That much was evident in their nail-biting encounter with the first placed Wauchope Blues at Verge Street Oval.
Wauchope got out to a fast start, securing a 12-0 lead in the first ten minutes with tries to Tristan Wright-Scott and Sam Watts.
Mustangs captain Ant Cowan flicked the switch for his side, leading his team up the park before Dre Barker barged over the line.
Macleay Valley were in again just before the quarter break with Harold Thompson causing havoc on the right edge, getting away a sensational flick pass to put Rylee Siness down for a try.
Cowan failed to convert out wide as the score read 12-10.
Sam Watts was in again after the break, scoring in similar fashion to his first, evading the outside men as Wauchope missed the kick.
The Mustangs weren't going away though with Cowan putting up an almighty bomb three minutes later, chasing his own kick and forcing a drop from the Blues. The halfback gathered the ball and scored to make it 16-16.
Tensions threatened to boil over in the 30th minute before Tim Bull was sent for ten.
Wauchope capitalised straight away with Reuben Trick scoring in the corner.
Even with 12-men though, the Mustangs weren't worried as Harold Thompson went over for a deserved try.
The score was now 22-20 Wauchope's way at half-time.
Watts picked up where he left off, opening the scoring in the second-half but failing to convert.
A try to Kurt Doherty followed ten minutes later to make it 32-20.
After dominating in 18's, Shane Caldwell-Davis added to his lists of assists for the day - kicking to the corner as a flying Jason Russell scored.
Minutes later, Miles Mongta showed his brute strength to score in the corner as three defenders attempted to push him over the touchline.
With both tries out wide, tough conversions couldn't be made as the score read 32-28.
Wauchope looked like they'd sealed the game in the 74th minute at Wright-Scott went over in the corner for his double to make it 36-28.
Youngster Ethan Thompson showed the never give up attitude his team is displaying this year to secure the ball with a one-on-one strip.
Ant Cowan then put Davis-Caldwell in for a try to make it 36-34 with three minutes to go as everyone at Verge Street forgot about back support and sat on the edge of their seats.
However, it wasn't to be as Wauchope held on with Watts kicking a penalty goal to finish off proceedings with a 38-34 victory.
"It was a tough afternoon, you have to give credit where it's due, the Mustangs they just kept showing up," Wauchope coach Mathew Bird said.
"Our grit, determination and want to win (got us over the line), you can't take that away from them though, their young fellas just ripped in and gave us a run for our money."
Cowan was happy with the fight his side displayed against the competition's ladder leaders.
"Wauchope's on top at the moment and the dominant side for a reason but it just goes to show this competition is wide open and my boys are ready to go, there's still plenty of footy in us, it's a good result at the end of the day," he said.
The effort of the Mustangs goal-line defence in the middle was outstanding as Wauchope continued to knock down the door.
Cowan put it down simply to wearing their heart on their sleeve.
"We just turn up for each other, it just goes to show the heart and courage that we have in our team and across the whole club," he told the Argus.
In reserve grade the Mustangs finished 32-20 winners as Jeremy Taylor put on a support play clinic with two tries.
"Reserve grade have got two wins in a row now so they're starting to turn it around but we've got to start stringing a few wins together in the next four or five weeks leading into the semi's otherwise it's going to be difficult," Cowan added.
"Today's a good result and we know we can match it with the best."
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