Kurri Kurri coach Ron Griffiths thought the Bulldogs had won.
So did many of the Lakes faithful.
But a dropped ball, 15 metres out and with the corner open nullified any advantage from a regathered kick-off and opportune attacking raid in the dying moments.
Instead the Bulldogs were left lamenting what might have been after missing the chance to respond to a late try conceded at the other end just prior, seeing Lakes record a come-from-behind 24-20 victory.
“It was all but [a win],” Griffiths said.
“I think it was one of the most disappointing losses I’ve ever been involved in.
“There were moments in the game where we just didn’t work hard enough for each other. And our ill-discipline invited them out of their own half. We gave away 15 penalties and you just can’t get give the football away that many times to a quality side like that.
“In saying that, I thought we we were probably the better side but just could find that clutch play. Full credit to Lakes for the effort they showed to stay in the game.”
Griffiths has yet to re-sign as coach of Kurri next year but has indicated his interest in the position for 2019.
Bulldogs second-rower Reid Alchin and Lakes hooker Casey Burgess were both put on report in the second half.
Kurri led 12-8 at the main break, 20-12 with 17 minutes remaining and 20-18 nearing full-time.
The result means the Bulldogs slip outside the top five for the first time this season, with Central swapping places with Kurri from sixth to fifth after accounting for Cessnock 32-12 at St John Oval on Sunday.
Central debutant Grant Anderson both scored and set up a try involving flick passes as the Butcher Boys ran out 20-point victors over the last-placed Goannas.
Anderson, who played on the opposite wing to older brother Cameron, and hooker Bryce Kennedy were the stand out performers according to outgoing Central coach Craig Miller.
“Those young blokes really stepped up and really motivated the older blokes,” Miller said.
“But at 20-12 with 10 minutes to go it was anyones game and Cessnock were quite willing.
“Fortunately we came out on top, won all five grades and stay in front of the club championship. So it was a good day for us.”
Meanwhile, in women’s rugby league and CRL Newcastle will get a chance to avenge Sunday’s 26-16 last-round loss to Cronulla this weekend when the teams meet again in the NSW Premiership’s elimination semi-final at Leichhardt Oval on Saturday (1:30pm).
And at Waratah Oval, Berkeley Vale defeated Maitland United in Saturday’s grand final to claim the inaugural CRL Combined Central Hunter Women’s Competition crown.
LADDER: Maitland, Lakes 14; Souths, Wests 12; Central 11; Kurri 10; Macquarie 7; Cessnock 6.