The Maitland Blacks have bowed out the finals with a 59-5 thumping by a red-hot Wanderers.
It was a cruel way for the Blacks finals campaign to end, with several leading players unavailable through injuries and bans for accumulated yellow cards.
Blacks co-coach Mick Hickling said the players were hurting but they had given their all throughout the season and in Sunday’s final.
“It’s a disappointing way for them to finish what was a very good season,” Hickling said.
“We had real confidence going into the finals that we could make the grand final.
“Unfortunately, we struck injuries and suspensions at the wrong time of the year.
“There’s a lot of positives we can take out of this year when we’ve got over the hurt.
“We successfully blended some quality new recruits into our team and we have seen the emergence and continued improvement of several youngsters and players who have been around for a while.
“Max Stafford has had a terrific year and Patrick Batey was sensational in his return at the end of the season. Rhys Clacherty debuted and a had a great year and Chris Martin and Jono Moloney came through strongly.
“We made the finals for the first time in a number of years and won one of our two.”
Maitland were missing captain Chris Logan, breakaway James Johnston and No.8 Travis Brooke to injury, while back-rower Nick Davidson and prop James Robinson were suspended.
Sap Peniata, Jye Estatheo and Jono O’Toole’s input has also been hampered by injury.
Stand-in Blacks skipper Mick Howell said his side were back-pedaling for most of the game.
“You lose your top two jumpers, you can’t take or retain any of that lineout ball,” he said. “No possession, no chance to score points.
“You can see the class of their forward pack, their set-piece drills. That was their bread and butter out there today. It just got them on the front foot and they hammered us.”
The Blacks second grade finals campaign is also over with a 29-22 loss on Sunday to Merewether Carlton.
Third grade play in the preliminary final against Hamilton after losing the qualifying final to Wanderers 24-20. Fourth grade plays Hamilton for a grand final spot.