Merewether Carlton made up ground in the race for the finals and built self-belief with a 19-12 win over fifth-placed Maitland in round 12 of Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union on Saturday.
The Greens climbed to eighth on 23 points, one point behind The Waratahs and seven off the top five, with the win at Townson Oval.
Merewether led 14-0 at halftime through tries to debutant prop Jacob Penfold and Frazer Price.
Sam Rouse, who converted the first-half tries, scored in the corner early in the second half for 19-0. The Blacks responded with a try to Michael Howell and conversion to Jono Maloney but the Greens held firm until the final minutes when Maloney scored for 19-12.
It was just the fourth win of the season for Merewether, who drew 25-all with The Waratahs in their return to Townson Oval last week when Maitland lost by only two points to the ladder-leading Hawks.
Merewether coach Jode Roach was thrilled with the win.
“It’s something we’ve been working towards for a while now and we knew it would come at some stage,” Roach said.
“It’s a big self-belief builder for our boys and we’ve still got a long way to go, but it’s certainly good to beat one of the best sides in the competition.
“We’ve got Singleton next and we’ll treat that like a grand final. We won’t take anything for granted from here on in.
“I was really proud of the boys today. They dug in against a good footy side and next week we’ll go to Singleton and we’ll aim to do the same thing.”
Roach was particularly proud of the defensive effort in the second half.
“They threw everything at us,” he said.
“They are a pretty accomplished side but we just knuckled down and defended and defended. We did well.
“It’s good to be at home as well. It’s been a pretty disjointed season for us.
“To get a good crowd, good weather and beat a good team on our home ground, it was a good day and I was really proud of them.”
He said the performance of Penfold and another new prop, Turi Uini, were highlights, as was the return of their most experienced and influential player, Jay Strachan, from injury off the bench.
“We’re far from thinking our season is over and we’re just going to take it week to week," Roach added.
Elsewhere, Hamilton routed Singleton 88-5 at Passmore Oval with Steve Sione and Tomuhine Halanukonuka scoring three tries each.
Winger Tim Marsh scored three tries for second-placed Wanderers in their 43-17 win over Nelson Bay at No.2 Sportsground.
Third-placed Southern Beaches defeated University 46-23 at Ernie Calland Field with Adrian Delore scoring a hat-trick and Tyson Watene a double.
Lake Macquarie skipped four points clear of Maitland in fourth with a 54-24 win over The Waratahs at Waratah Oval. Ray Alo scored twice for Lake Macquarie.
Wanderers 43 (tries TJ Marsh 3, DB Mckillop, DR Rowney, GC Ashworth, con LM Simmons 5, pen LM Simmons) def Nelson Bay 17
Southern Beaches 46 (tries AL Delore 3, TL Watene 2, MJ Delore, L Waide, con MJ Delore 4, pen MJ Delore) def University of Newcastle 23 (tries JJ Cooke, JL Crawford, con F Delli Carpini 2, pen F Delli Carpini 3)
The Waratahs 24 (tries F Taufaao 2, A Robson, con D Sherratt 3, pen D Sherratt) def by Lake Macquarie 54 (tries R Alo 2, K Viliamu, M Tauhinu, J Leota, CJ Gerrard, WJ Wilson, con BD Holliday 5, pen BD Holliday 3)
Merewether Carlton 19 (tries JA Penfold, F Price, S Rouse, con S Rouse 2) def Maitland 14 (tries MT Howell, J Maloney, con J Maloney)