Group 3 elimination final sees Port Macquarie Sharks tackle Taree City Bulls

THERE is always next year, boys.

No doubt those words will be ringing in the ears of Port Macquarie Sharks players after a heartbreaking 32-28 defeat to Taree City on Saturday.

In the end it was the performance of Bulls halfback Todd Bridge who scored two tries and had a hand in several others that proved the difference.

Beaten, battered, bruised and without five regular first graders, the Sharks were gallant but ultimately fell short and bowed out of the Group 3 competition in the process.

Back-to-back finals losses put an end to any hopes of qualifying for their third-straight first grade grand final, but they had their chances.

The Bulls will now progress to a clash with the loser of Sunday’s match between Port City and Macleay Valley.

Sharks coach Wayne Grant wasn’t looking for excuses, but lamented a year which was punctuated with player unavailability.

Harley Gore, Scott Grant, Joel Antilla, Connor Cheeseman and Grant Faatoia all missed the clash.

“That’s been the year hasn’t it,” Grant said in reference to his team’s injury struggles.

“It’s been full of hurdles, but that’s football and these guys have given 100 per cent all year and we’ve been just a little bit short in some cases.

“That’s how it goes, it’s what’s happened and hopefully next year we go again.

We had our chances and you look at the amount of people walking around with knee braces and it might tell the story I think.

Port Macquarie Sharks coach Wayne Grant

“We had our chances and you look at the amount of people walking around with knee braces and it might tell the story I think.”

Brendan Carter appeared to have scored to put the Sharks back in front with nine minutes left, but the final pass was ruled forward.

Taree five-eighth Toby DeStefano then scored five minutes later to appear to put the Bulls within one game of the grand final.

The Sharks refused to lay down and Mitch Wilbow gave them a lifeline with two minutes remaining, but it wasn’t to be.

Both sides went to the break locked at 10-all in a niggly, stop-start affair where continuity was hard to come by.

For the Sharks, hooker Mitch Wilbow scored a second-half double to give them a sniff, but errors at inopportune times came at a cost.

Several soft attempts at tackles on their goal-line didn’t help the Sharks cause.

Wilbow’s second try three minutes from full-time closed the gap to 32-28, but a forward pass from Sharks five-eighth Joey Cudmore put paid to any hope of a miracle victory.

“It’s football, that’s what it is. It’s hard work,” Grant said.

The Sharks coach remained non-committal about his future for next season.

“I’ve got to get a job first next year, but we’ll see what happens. I’m going fishing first.”

Earlier in the day, the Sharks reserve grade side progressed to within one game of the grand final with a 29-20 win over Macleay Valley.

Follow how the match played out below: