The Maitland Blacks find themselves in a logjam of teams outside the top five on the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union competition ladder following their one point loss to Wanderers at Marcellin Park on Saturday.
One point separates four teams on the edge of the semi-final spots and the Blacks missed their chance to break away from the group after being downed 30-29 by the Two Blues in a topsy-turvy tussle.
The lead changed four times in the final half an hour of play but it was a 79th minute penalty goal from Wanderers replacement player James Wivell that sealed the deal for the visitors in the fourth round encounter.
Blacks skipper Luke Cunningham described the result as “frustrating” while coach Geoff Golledge was disappointed with his team’s performance.
“Our execution and our one percenters were not where they should be,” Golledge said.
“We dropped the ball at important times and missed crucial tackles and you just can’t afford to do that.”
First half tries to No.8 Adam Perkins and five-eighth Ryan McCormack kept the Blacks in the game at half-time after trailing 13-0 midway through the opening 40 minutes.
Shortly after the break two converted tries, one to prop James Howell and the other to inside centre James Bonomini, in the space of five minutes put the Blacks ahead for the first time (26-20) after going to the break down by eight.
But 10 minutes later Wanderers regained the lead at 27-26 with a converted try of their own.
Both teams traded penalties in the final five minutes of play, first the Blacks (29-27) then Wivell’s eventual winner (30-29), and the margin remained the same.
The Blacks have one win next to their name so far this season but picked up two bonus points for their efforts on Saturday afternoon, one for scoring four tries and one for losing by less than seven.
In other results from round four, Southern Beaches kept their impressive start to the season going by claiming the Hawthorne Cup from defending premiers Merewether Carlton in a 35-10 result, University edged past Nelson Bay 27-24, Hamilton accounted for The Waratahs 29-17, while Singleton and Lake Macquarie played out a 17-all draw.
Maitland Blacks 29 (Adam Perkins, Ryan McCormack, James Howell and James Bonomini tries; McCormack 3 conversions and penalty) defeated by Wanderers 30 (Asa Lehauli, Corey Te Koeti and Luke Sherwood tries; Andrew Ianna 3 conversions and 2 penalties; James Wivell penalty).