WESTERN Suburbs have thrown down the gauntlet in the race for the Newcastle Rugby League title by handing Wyong their first defeat of the season.
The Rosellas left it late at Harker Oval on Sunday before clinching an 18-12 victory in the penultimate round, after a fortuitous try by winger Jesse Andrews in the dying minutes.
Wyong led 12-8 with 10 minutes remaining, when they had a player sent to the sin bin for a professional foul. Wests centre Heath Gibbs scored soon after to lock up the scores, then minutes later played an unintentional role in the deciding try.
After making a tackle, Gibbs was returning to the defensive line from behind the ruck, only for a Wyong opponent to accidentally pass him the ball.
Gibbs avoided it, and the ball bounced opportunely for Andrews, who grabbed it gratefully and raced nine metres to score in the corner.
Wests coach Todd Lowrie said it was a confidence-boosting result for his team as they gear up for the finals.
"It was a tough game, actually," Lowrie said.
"It was pretty physical, and they were in front for most of the game, but we scraped home in the end.
"I think both sides can play a lot better than we did today.
"We both played tough, and I think our defence won as the game in the end.
"The boys will get a lot of confidence out of that."
The win allowed Wests to leapfrog South Newcastle into third sport on the ladder, equal with Cessnock, who have a superior for-and-against record.
Wyong remain leaders by four points.
In Saturday's game, Lakes United and Souths fought out a 20-all draw at Cahill Oval.
The result pud paid to the Seagulls' slim hopes of scraping into the semi-finals.