WANDERERS will meet Lake Macquarie in a showdown for the final place in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union final series at Walters Park on Saturday.
The Two Blues missed an opportunity to seal fifth place yesterday when they surrendered 38-20 to Hamilton at No.1 Sportsground.
Lake Macquarie’s 38-17 loss to Merewether on Friday night meant Wanderers, who were three points ahead of the Roos, could have claimed fifth with a win over the Hawks.
Instead it will come down to the final round.
Wanderers had chances yesterday.
They led 10-7 but when push came to shove Hamilton were the stronger.
Paul Dan set up Steve Lamont for a converted try on the stroke of half-time to go ahead 14-10.
Prop Peter Bakarich crossed for the first of his double three minutes after the resumption of play.
Wanderers hit back with a penalty to Mark Sherwood but then let the kick from restart bounce and turned over possession.
Paddy Kilmurray dived one pass out from the ensuing ruck for 23-13.
Bakarich added his second, backing up on the inside, and Country fullback Ben Harriss regathered his own kick to touch down, completing an avalanche of 28 points in 24minutes either side of the break.
Adding to the Two Blues’ woes were injuries to centre Luke Menchin (leg) and winger Lee Newton (dislocated shoulder).
‘‘We had opportunities today and didn’t take them and Hamilton finished us off clinically,’’ Wanderers coach Ellis Meachen said.
‘‘You make errors against the No.1 team, you get punished. Second half, the kick-off and the other errors were just rubbish.
‘‘We know what our systems are from kicks.
‘‘They were just elementary mistakes.’’
Though disappointed by yesterday’s result Meachen was adamant the Two Blues would be up for the sudden-death clash.
‘‘They want to be part of the semis,’’ he said.
‘‘Next week is our quarter-final.
‘‘The last couple of weeks we have been building well. Maybe this is what we needed to let them know just because they are playing good it doesn’t guarantee them anything.
‘‘You need to play consistently for 80 minutes.’’
Inspired by an emotional pre-game talk from Shaimus Lautaimi, whose career was ended by a broken neck last year, the bonus-point win all but wrapped up the minor premiership for Hamilton and ended a fortnight of indifferent form.
‘‘The main thing was to get everyone back playing together,’’ coach Scott Coleman said. ‘‘Mus [Lautaimi] spoke from the heart about the reasons you play footy. He has had his taken away from him.
‘‘The boys lifted. It was our best warm-up and they carried that out onto the field.’’
Country second-rower Nick Palmer played 60 minutes in his much-anticipated return from a hamstring injury in a further boost for the Hawks.
Fifth is not the only spot up for grabs in the final round.
Merewether and Maitland are equal third.
The Greens host cellar dwellers Singleton and Maitland are away to The Waratahs.
If they finish equal on points, Merewether who have two more wins, would claim third and two chances in the finals.
In Saturday’s games, Southern Beaches came back from 0-19 to beat Nelson Bay 36-29 at Strong Oval. Andy Delore scored a hat-trick.
Hayden Pedersen, Jasper Lauina and Francis Deng scored doubles to help steer The Waratahs to a 55-13 win over University and Maitland trampled Singleton 58-5 at Marcellin Park.