PORT Macquarie Sharks will use a top-three finish to its advantage after a fiery 40-32 loss to Macleay Valley Mustangs in Kempsey on Sunday.
Sharks coach Wayne Grant was selective with his comments following the game, but felt they received no favours.
The Sharks were left fuming after players were on the receiving end of countless high tackles which went largely unpunished.
“It’s hard for anyone when you have 11 and 12 players at different times (on the field) and players running without heads which is what it turned into,” Grant said.
“Players were protecting their heads as much as they were protecting the ball in the end, but I’ve made my feelings known to the group president.”
The Sharks will have a second bite at the cherry next weekend when they clash with Taree City for the right to progress to the Group 3 grand final on August 27.
A win at Verge Street Oval on Sunday would have meant a clash with undefeated ladder-leaders Port City Breakers next Sunday.
In a match which threatened to boil over and was a throwback to the 1980’s, five players in total were sin-binned.
The Mustangs’ Dalwyn Vale was given his marching orders for a high tackle on Sharks five-eighth Joey Cudmore 20 minutes from full-time.
Cudmore fell foul of the referee himself, spending two stints in the sin-bin for separate offences.
“Three of those sin-bins were ours and I don’t have to agree with them, but I have to wear them and they haven’t helped us,” Grant said.
Grant didn’t feel Cudmore and front-rower and captain Tom Maguire lost their cool despite spending time off the field.
“I don’t think they were losing their cool, they’ve made a comment and the referee has reacted the wrong way,” he said.
“That’s his call and I’m not a referee and never will be so I’m not going to enter into that one.”
“But that’s our problem, we have to accept we’ve made the mistake whether we have or we haven’t and we need to try to rectify it.”
The Sharks still had their chances and led 24-16 five minutes into the second half.
In the space of five minutes, Brendan Carter and Liam Potter went within millimetres of scoring in opposite corners, only for the touch judges flag to thwart any chance they had.
The Sharks coach believed his players were guilty of trying to play the same way as their opponents.
“We spoke about not getting sucked into playing their game and we did (get sucked in),” he said.
Lock forward Connor Cheeseman was stretchered from the field early in the second half with a dislocated patella.
He will be assessed during the week.