The Mittagong Lions have been bumped from the top four after a tough defeat to Thirlmere Roosters.
Thirlmere kept their top two hopes alive after a 36-26 victory over a determined Lions outfit on Sunday, July 16.
The two Group 6 heavyweights battled it out in perfect conditions at Thirlmere Sportsground, with a healthy crowd supporting both teams, with four rounds left in the first grade season.
Mittagong started the stronger, with damaging forward PJ Thornton scoring after six minutes, which gave the Lions a 6-0 lead.
The Lions held sway for much of the opening 25 minutes, and were rewarded with a second try, through hard-working hooker Jake Merceica, who backed up a run on the inside, and cruised the final 30 metres to score under the posts.
This seemed to wake the Roosters up and they scored two tries in quick succession. Both tries were made over 40m, and led to scores for the home side.
The Roosters struck first in the second half and pushed out to a six point lead.
The home team had more purpose in the second half, and seemed to dominate possession and territory in the process.
With 23 minutes left, the Roosters scored again and extended their lead to 12 points with a 24-12 scoreline.
But Thornton was quick to react and made another long run for Mittagong and took Thirlmere back to a six point lead.
With 18 minutes left, Mittagong coach Dan Beardshaw hoped for a comeback.
“We lost our way a bit in the first half, I think we were too busy looking toward half time, but our talk and our energy was good,” he said.
But it wasn’t meant to be for the mighty Lions.
Thirlmere scored two consecutive tries to take the score to 36-18 with just 10 minutes remaining of the round 11 match.
Mittagong, to their credit, didn’t give up and scored the final two tries of the day, through winger Bo Lander.
This reduced the margin to 36-26, but they couldn’t close the gap further with time running out.
Beardshaw said the game got away from the lions in the first 10 minutes of the second half.
“It was only okay,” he said.
“Our fifth tackle options weren’t great and we weren’t making any long kicks,” he said.
Although the Lions started to dominate again in the final 20 minutes of the match, it was too late.
The Lions will have a week off before round 12, which Beardshaw said would be invaluable for the team.
“We will get back into training and we will have five or so players back from injury,” he said.
“We proved in the first half that we can cause a lot of problems so hopefully that will be the case when we play Oakdale.”
Although the Lions have moved into sixth place on the ladder, Beardshaw said there was still plenty of hope for finals.
“This is the crunch end, if we win all three of our next games we can still finish second and I have no doubt we can do that,” he said.
The Lions will play the Oakdale Workers on July at Mittagong Sportsground.
Kick-off will be 2.30pm.