By NICK GUTHRIE
IT WAS edge of the seat stuff during the final 10 minutes of Saturday's Blowes Clothing Cup clash between the Dubbo Kangaroos and Bathurst Bulldogs at No. 1 Oval.
A Bathurst try with eight minutes to go brought the visitors within six points of the Roos and from there on they dominated possession, with their forward pack bashing the Dubbo tryline over and over again.
But the defending premiers held firm and their celebrations at the final whistle were a mix of joy and relief as they kept their finals hopes alive with a 21-15 victory.
"A great win and probably our best performance of the year," Dubbo captain Shaun McHugh said after the match.
"Everyone stood up and everyone was keen for it and I think the only thing that let us down was our scrum, which is traditionally strong, but we can work on that and our defence was spot on."
Bathurst Bulldogs co-coach Scott Cantrill said there was plenty of positives to take from the high-class, fast-paced match but admitted it was frustrating his side didn't make the most of their chances.
"Three mistakes led to three (Dubbo) tries and unfortunately I think we were coming home over the top of them so it's pretty disappointing," he said.
"The set pieces were good but credit to Dubbo they tackled and held up the ball and put pressure on us that way.
"There's a huge amount of positives, the set pieces were good but we've got to work coming off those."
The afternoon had earlier began well for the Roos with Simon Hegarty converting some early pressure into points when he got across the line.
James Mata's conversion made it 7-0 but the Bulldogs lifted and created numerous chances after that, mainly off the back of powerful runs from the outstanding Izack Breen, whose personal battle with Filisone Pauta was one of the real highlights of the match.
The Bulldogs eventually crossed through scrumhalf Dylan Sinclair when he sold the Roos defence with a huge dummy and Steve Locke's conversion got it back all square.
But shortly after the Roos were back in front through a try to scrumhalf Mata following a brilliant Moa Kavaefiafi run but a penalty right on halftime from Locke meant the Bulldogs went into the break only down by four, trailing 14-10.
It was more of the same bruising, forward dominated rugby after the break with Bathurst controlling the scrum and lineouts to continually put them into attacking areas.
But just when it looked like they would cross again a dropped ball was scooped up by Pauta, who found Hena Tuatea who, in turn, passed to Mata who raced away to extend the lead.
Mata's conversion made it 21-10 and after that Bathurst threw everything they had at Dubbo with the Roos' errors and poor discipline inviting the Bulldogs back into the match.
After opting to run the ball following a pair of penalties they eventually crossed again through Chris Plunkett but despite their best efforts they couldn't break through the Roos defence again.
"We got a bit excited midway through the second half and thought we had to score from every opportunity and that put pressure on ourselves but it was a bloody good win," McHugh said.
"We got a bit of the bounce of the ball today, which we haven't had this year, and we've got finishers, all our backs are finishers so that's good.
"Now we just look forward to next week against Emus here and we'll see what we can do there."
DUBBO KANGAROOS 21 (James Mata 2, Simon Hegarty tries; Mata 3 conversions) defeated BATHURST BULLDOGS 15 (Dylan Sinclair, Chris Plunkett tries; Steve Locke conversion, penalty)