A GOAL kicked after a contentious penalty awarded to Port Macquarie six minutes from fulltime enabled the Sharks to score an 18-17 win over Wingham in a gripping Group Three Rugby League elimination semi-final at Port Macquarie.
Referee Warren Holstein penalised the Tigers from a dummy half infringement apparently on the advice of a touch judge. Port second rower David Geary potted the goal and the Sharks managed to hold on to claim a spot in next Saturday's minor semi-final.
However, there was plenty of drama in the final minutes. Wingham looked set to score a last gasp win when interchange centre Tim Bridge found some room seconds before time. Bridge was eventually grassed by some desperate cover. He managed to get a kick in but the ball went dead as the siren sounded.
Wingham coach Stu Baker was furious with the referee and said so at game's end.
"It was a joke mate, a joke,'' he fumed.
Asked his thoughts about the decision to award Port the penalty that ultimately decided the game Baker replied: "Ask him.''
It was a tough, hard semi-final. Wingham led 12-4 at the break and were clearly the better side. But the Sharks have been slow starters all season and they gradually whittled away the deficit in the second stanza.
Both packs were outstanding, Wingham having the better of the first half but Port gained a points decision in the second.
Wingham were too conservative with the ball in the second half and wasted sets when deep in Port territory. The fact the Tigers only scored one try and that was through an intercept was testament to that.
Halfback Mitch Steel was outstanding for the Tigers. He orchestrated most of Wingham's play and made a couple of sharp breaks for good measure.
Lock Matt Bartlett was another worker and the Tigers will be hoping he saddles up for another season in 2015. Prop Ben Welsh was also strong off the bench.
There was certainly no lack of effort from any of the Tigers.
Port has a match winner in fullback Harley Gore. He started the game from the bench but made an impact the moment he was introduced into the game. Coach Phil Trembath later explained that Gore was sidelined for missing training sessions. That's the official line anyway.
Gore was denied a try midway through the second half when he followed through a centre kick from halfback Clint Foot, re-gathered and sprinted clear to plant the ball under the posts. The score was 17-10 to Wingham at the time.
However, Holstein disallowed the try after a touch judge's report, penalising Gore for being offside.