THE Muswellbrook Heelers’ premiership credentials suffered a slight blow at Dangar Park, Newcastle, at the weekend.
The side’s 22-14 loss to Easts 1 saw the President’s Cup frontrunners drop from first spot to third on the ladder.
Heelers president Greg Buckley admitted it was a missed opportunity.
“This clash was important as Muswellbrook was holding a share of first place with Easts only three points behind,” he said.
“Easts started the game at a fast pace and took an early 12-0 lead after about 15 minutes.
“We maintained our composure and knew if we kept to the structure, points would come.
“A dubious length of the field try gave Easts a 17-0 lead.
“And, with a hostile home crowd behind them, they seemed to be in for an easy day.
“However, the Heelers stuck to their game plan and didn’t panic.
“A dominant forward pack soon had Easts on the back foot.
“Unfortunately, what seemed a certain barge-over try to Ben Heriot was disallowed by the referee, who was on the opposite side of the play and didn’t sight the ball being planted over the line.
“It wasn’t long before a smart move by halfback Cameron Huggins saw him dive over and score near the posts.
“Cameron Young converted and we trailed 17-7 at half-time.”
The Heelers were still upbeat at the break and coach Mick Hall reinforced the game plan – and to not get caught up in “the niggle”.
Muswellbrook had good field position in the second half and, with a well-worked scrum move, Bruce Rauqe scored under the posts untouched.
It was converted by Young and a scoreline of 17-14 resulted.
Some puzzling calls during the period, by the officials, saw momentum interrupted and the flow of the game stifled.
Even though the Heelers gained the upper hand, Easts touched down in the corner just before full-time and wrapped up the fixture 22-14.
“A finals berth is still guaranteed,” Buckley said.
“However, this now puts us back in third spot, only two points behind second-placed Easts 1.
“A bye this weekend will not allow us to get any points either.
“But, our last game of the home and away season, at Highbrook Park on August 26 against Pokolbin, will give us a chance to finish second or stay in third.”
Referee’s points went to: 2 Harry Hobden, 1 Ben Heriot
Coach’s points: 3 Cameron Huggins, 2 Cameron Young and Doug Raphael, 1 Josia Besetimoala and Harry Hobden
Players’ Player: Cameron Huggins