One Nation's Stuart Bonds has not ruled out a miracle victory over Labor frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon in the Hunter electorate ... and neither has Joel Fitzgibbon.
"We tore the absolute heart out of the Labor party," a triumphant Mr Bonds said on Monday as he waited to see if postal and other votes would hand him the formerly very safe ALP seat.
With 77 per cent of the vote counted, Mr Fitzgibbon was leading Nationals candidate Josh Angus on Monday night by a margin of 2.5 per cent and on track to retain the seat he inherited from his father, Eric, in 1996.
Mr Bonds had 21.87 per cent of the primary vote, One Nation's best result in Australia, narrowly trailing Mr Angus (23.86 per cent) as Mr Fitzgibbon's (37.64 per cent) main challenger.
Returns from pre-poll centres at Edgeworth and East Maitland were outstanding, plus 11,000 postal, declaration, absentee and provisional votes.
If these put the Singleton mine worker in front of Mr Angus, he could pick up more preferences from the Nationals and minor parties and put Mr Fitzgibbon's lead under threat.
Mr Fitzgibbon said it was "highly unlikely" Mr Bonds could unseat him, but he did not rule it out.
"More preferences could flow from the Nationals to him if he gets in front," he said.
Support for Mr Fitzgibbon at polling booths in his home town of Cessnock, where he once played rugby league for the Goannas, fell from more than 60 per cent in 2016 to 41 per cent on Saturday.
Mr Bonds, a CFMEU member who campaigned against what he regards as Labor's threat to mining jobs, said he still gave himself a chance.
"I've played plenty of footy games where I've won after the final whistle," he said.
Mr Bonds, who said he would run for One Nation again in the Hunter, is shaping as a potential rock star for the party after convincing Labor voters to jump ship.
"The party is extremely pleased," he said. "They're proud of me because my whole objective was to put the Hunter in the news.
"I told them that when I ran ... I want to make this at least a marginal seat, and I want people to pay attention to the people of the Hunter."
He also tapped into what he saw as voter resentment about what the region had received in return for mining royalties and union fees.
"The Hunter has helped create the Labor party. We have spent our union dues and backed the Labor party in this seat for 90 years, and the moment that coal looks like it's become unpopular they turn their back on us.
"That was a fundamental error, and it's cost them the election. When it comes down to preferences, there's a very outside chance they could lose this seat."
"I think the union's got to have a good, hard look at itself ... there's a huge amount of dissatisfaction inside the rank and file about the way they've been acting, so there's going to be some fallout from this."
Mr Bonds won 28 per cent of the vote in booths in Muswellbrook, Greta and Singleton, 26 per cent at Rutherford, West Wallsend and Barnsley, 25 per cent at Wyee and 24 per cent in Cessnock.