Their courage and commitment never wavered but the strain of what was effectively six consecutive knock-out finals caught up with the Kurri Kurri Bulldogs in Sunday's preliminary final against Lakes United.
Trailing 12-10 at half-time the Bulldogs were still in the hunt to make the grand final, but Lakes showed why they were minor premiers finishing over the top of them to run out 38-16 winners.
The Seagulls dominated the second half scoring 26 points unanswered, but in a display of the never-say-die Bulldogs spirit of 2018 they had the last say with Peter Cronin crossing beside the uprights for a converted try on the bell.
“To say I’m proud of them would be an understatement,” Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths said of his team’s efforts of winning four straight games to make the finals and another two to get within one win of the grand final.
“I spoke to them after the game and said for those who were there last year they know where we have come from.
“I still to this day believe that when we went to Wests in round 10 last year that’s when we turned the corner and knew who we were. For the rest of that year we competed well with the top five teams.
“This year we got off to a good start and had a little hole through the year and then we finished off like we wanted to.”
Griffiths said it was always going to be hard to sustain the winning run, but his team had give it their best shot.
“We’ve been up for a long period of time and in that last 40 we couldn’t keep going with it,” he said.
To say I’m proud of them would be an understatement.Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths
“That’s what happens, it was the longest winning streak in the comp for 2018 so far and when you are up we rode it while it was there.
“We probably didn’t play quite the right style, but that’s footy.”
Griffith said the final try typified the team’s fighting spirit.
“I could never question their effort. No matter what sort of circumstances or situation they were in they always stuck together and got themselves out of it,” he said.
“I think a lot it has to do with their belief in who they are and what we’re about, but also the training we do around our mindset.”
Griffiths said forward Brock Gilmour pushed himself to his limits and Mitch Cullen and Tom McKenzie were very good performers in the loss, but everyone had given their all.
”They need to hold their heads high. They have achieved a lot as a group but we plan to go further in 2019,” he said. “How we will be measured ultimately on 2018 is how we respond to this and what 2019 holds for us.”
The Maitland Pickers under-19s have booked a spot in the grand final against Western Suburbs after beating Lakes United 26-24 in the preliminary final.