A slow start proved costly for the Macleay Valley Mustangs on Sunday at Wauchope but the away side still had plenty to be happy about after a second-half resurgence.
Heading to the sheds at half-time, Wauchope were out to an 18-0 lead after dominating the early stages.
"We pretty much defended for the first half, kept turning over cheap ball and not getting into our sets," co-coach Ant Cowan recounted.
The Mustangs then brought some respectability to the scoreline, ultimately winning the second-half.
"We came out in the second half, put the first try on through Ethan Cooper before Rylee Sines scored an intercept with 11 minutes to go and it got back to 22-12 but it was just one of those games where both teams turned the ball over," Cowan said.
Cowan was delighted with his side's fightback.
"It's a massive positive, we won the second half 12-4, if we didn't give them that 18-0 lead it would've been another good game to watch," he said.
The Mustangs also had several outs with Isaiah Barker, Steve Walker and Tim Bull all missing the game through injury.
"I don't use that as an excuse though, I have players that can fill those spots," Cowan explained.
"Our young boys hit like bricks - a few of the Wauchope boys were saying they'd be sore tomorrow - they're not the biggest of blokes but they've got hearts of lions and they know how to hit."
Macleay Valley will now move onto their fixture against Forster-Tuncurry this weekend with a win putting them further ahead of Wingham as both them and Port City Breakers battle it out for a top five spot.
"This week against Forster, we have to win to get every chance of making the semi's, depending on other results but if we win this week we're almost guaranteed a spot," Cowan said.
"A semi-final would be huge for the club.
"To get back in the competition after the COVID break and have such a young side with so many 19 and 20-year-olds that are only 70 or 80 kilos ringing wet that put their body on the line every game, it's really good to see and it builds their confidence.
"In the next few years if they all stick together and lead this club there'll be premierships.
"But it's about finishing off the year, taking it game by game, if we make the semi's it'll give them a lot of confidence coming into next year."
Wingham Tigers play Taree City, Wauchope and Port City in the last month of the season with Wingham resigned to not having captain-coach Mick Sullivan as he is in lockdown on the Central Coast.
Forster will be at home to Macleay Valley this Sunday before the Mustangs play their indigenous round fixture at Verge Street Oval on August 29 against Old Bar Pirates.
Port Sharks and Macleay Valley won't play on August 21 after they were the only two sides to contest their July 10 fixture with all other games deferred.
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