SOUTH Newcastle coach Andrew Ryan says Western Suburbs remain the competition benchmark despite his team's gritty 14-12 win at Harker Oval on Sunday.
Wests had lost only one of their first 13 games of the season and went into the rain-deferred catch-up game on a seven-game winning streak, with the minor premiership sewn up.
But despite grinding out a 12-0 half-time lead, the Rosellas encountered spirited opposition after the interval as the defending premiers showed their championship qualities.
A short ball from Ryan Glanville in the 47th minute created a try for substitute Connor Browne, which fullback Harry van Dartel converted.
In the 60th minute, Souths hooker Joe Morris darted over from dummy-half and van Dartel equalised.
Then four minutes later, Wests were penalised for a high tackle and van Dartel's boot gave the visitors a two-point lead that they defended until full-time.
Wests will snare pole position in the play-offs and Souths are set to finish second, and in all likelihood they will clash again at the business end of proceedings, with far more at stake than two competition points.
"They're the best side in the comp, 100 per cent," Ryan said.
"They've showed it all year. They'll get the minor premiership, and they deserve it.
"Cessnock beat them earlier in the season, but that was their only loss up until today.
"It was a good win for us, especially coming back from 12-0 down, but they've been head and shoulders above everyone all season, so they're still the team to beat."
Wests coach Matt Lantry said the loss was "a bit of a reality check" but acknowledged that the Lions thoroghly deserved their win.
"Full credit to Souths," Lantry said.
"I thought our first 40 minutes was OK. They were facing a 12-0 deficit at half-time, but they came out in the second half and really took it to us.
"We've learned a really valuable lesson today. Our completion rate after half-time was six from 15, and they made us pay for it.
"We were our own worst enemies at times but they were too good for us today."
Lantry said his team had bounced back strongly from their previous loss this season and was confident they would do so again.
At Cahill Oval, Lakes United staged a remarkable comeback to beat Cessnock 26-22 and climb out of the competition cellar.
Lakes trailed 22-0 early in the second half but the match turned when Lakes centre Jarran Costello was fouled while scoring in the 44th minute, which led to an eight-point try.
Lakes then ran in three tries in the next 16 minutes to snatch the lead.
"I think the eight-point try rattled them a bit," Lakes coach Lyndon Sheppard said.
"Jarran's a tough kid and he played on, but he's gone up to hospital tonight for scans, because his elbow was injured in that incident."