HUNTER Wildfires coach Scott Coleman had no complaints about a crucial refereeing decision that cruelled his team's hopes of notching their first victory of the Shute Shield season at No.2 Sportsground on Saturday.
The Wildfires led Eastern Suburbs 7-5 at half-time and had extended that advantage by midway through the second stanza, only to lose replacement prop Dave Waller to the sin-bin.
The visitors ran in three tries during the 10 minutes Hunter were down to 14 men to post a 31-21 victory. Coleman said the sin-binning was costly but admitted the referee had little alternative,
"We conceded four penalties in a row inside our own 22, which is generally a warning," Coleman said.
"Dave was just the unlucky one, to be honest. We'd already lost two props, and once he went off they went to a scrum and got a penalty try, and then they scored two more while we were down a man."
The result left the Wildfires 11th on the ladder, after six losses and a draw from their first seven games.
Coleman said the performance was "a step forward" after a series of heavy defeats, but added that his players were frustrated about letting a possible victory slip through their fingers.
They get a bye this week to refresh and regroup before taking on one of the two teams below them on the ladder, Western Sydney Two Blues, at Lidcombe Oval on Saturday week.
"We've played the top seven teams in the first seven rounds, and we've learned some lessons and played some good footy," Coleman said. "Now we've got a week to freshen up and we can come back for the last five rounds and have a crack at some teams in the bottom half of the table. We're hoping to get a few wins and climb up the ladder a bit."
Hunter's tries were scored by centres Carl Manu and Rob Buaserau and winger Nimi Qio.
In the weekend's other Shute Shield fixtures, Eastwood climbed to second on the ladder with a nerve-racking 43-41 win against Randwick, Southern Districts pipped Warringah 39-38, Norths down the Two Blues 40-26, competition leaders Gordon beat West Harbour 24-12, and Manly thrashed cellar dwellers Penrith 64-22.
The Wildfires women also suffered a reality check when they were beaten 24-17 by Easts. The loss ended a promising run that delivered wins against Sydney Uni (17-12) and Gordon (53-0).
Wingers Jorja Holden and Anika Butler and back-rower Trudi Peterson scored Hunter's tries. It was Butler's sixth try in the space of four games, after posting a hat-trick against Gordon.