Gunnedah’s already floundering finals hopes suffered another – and potentially fatal – blow at Inverell on Saturday.
The Red Devils were unable to capitalise on a late territorial dominance going down in a tight affair 15-12.
Their third straight loss, coach Jason Waerea admits it will be difficult for them now to make the top four.
They are only five points adrift of fourth-placed Walcha but four of their remaining six games are against sides above them.
Saturday was a game that slipped away from them.
The Red Devils were camped in the Highlanders 22 for much of the last 10 minutes pressing for a match-winner but couldn’t crack their defence.
They probably could have kicked to draw Waerea said, having a couple of penalty opportunities late, but they needed the win.
He was understandably disappointed but couldn’t fault their effort.
“We had a lot of changes but we had a go,” he said.
They were missing Joe Norman, Aisea Raitala, Matt Neilson, Sanimo Navatu, Josh Leys and Isaac Scholes to name a few. The latter was a late withdrawal.
They then lost Matt Hannay to a broken hand mid-way through the game leaving them with no hooker.
But while they were still “very offensive” at the scrum, which was dominant throughout the game, it hurt them in the lineouts, having no recognised lineout thrower.
Waerea had expected Saturday to be tough given the number, and calibre, of players they were missing
“They (Inverell) were pretty good,” he said.
“They were good at maintaining and keeping the ball. Unfortunately we weren’t as good at maintaining the ball.”
“We made a lot of mistakes.”
He was rueing their inability to finish.
“We had to piece a backline together and that showed. We couldn’t finish anything,” he said.
“We had a lot of opportunities where we made good clean breaks but we knocked on or they made a good clean pilfer.”
Usually a strength of their game the Red Devils were probably “too good at the breakdown”.
“We were going well past the ball and they were coming through and taking the ball after we’d blown off the defender,” Waerea said.
Brown brothers Jeremy and Dan were again among the points sharing the two behind prop Russell Johnston, while half-back Dave Heyman picked up the one.
The Red Devils second grade also went down 31-19 while the women had a 20-19 win and 17-5 loss to remain in fourth.