Western Rams coach Cameron Greenhalgh felt his side should have won Sunday's Open Age Country Championships clash with Monaro but was left to lament a slow start at Canberra.
An inspired second half showing from Parkes recruit Bailey Hartwig rocketed the Rams back into the contest after the hosts had led 12-0 at half-time.
Despite his try and try assist, it wasn't enough as some errors as costly times and a number of what Greenhalgh felt were contentious decisions resulted in Monaro hanging on and winning the round one fixture 18-14.
"It's a little bit disappointing," Greenhalgh said.
"But in the first half we just did too much defending and our attack didn't quite click. A lot of blokes haven't played much footy or played together so I did expect it to take some time.
"But in the second half we got some momentum and had them pegged back.
"We got a bit more energy in our legs and went at them a bit harder and, to be honest, we should have won."
The experienced coach felt a number of penalties against his side around the ruck could have been ruled as Monaro knock-ons while a Jeremy Thurston knock down from a bomb that was also ruled forward was another moment Greenhalgh singled out.
But the slow start had put the visitors under pressure, with errors at key times and a lack of cohesion in attack allowing Monaro's big bodies to get a roll on.
Winger Tristan Eldridge opened the scoring for Monaro and on 23 minutes he produced one of the game's big moments as he grabbed an intercept after Rams fullback Mitch Andrews had looked to spread the ball with his side on the attack and just 10m from the line.
Eldridge ran away to make it 8-0 and while the Rams had some more time in possession a late penalty and then one-one-one strip led to Jake Wheeler going over to make it 12-0 at the break.
The Rams came out a different team following the break and after some sustained pressure a shift right resulted in centre Blake Lawson grabbing his side's first try.
Monaro hit back and at 18-4 were a chance of running away with it but second-rower Hartwig returned to the field and soon put his mark on the match.
He ran a brilliant line on halfway to break through the Monaro defence and he found Andrews in support to help get his side within eight points.
The Rams were soon on the attack again and a shift to the right found Hartwig, who opted against spreading it further and swivelled back against the angle and stretched out to score.
When he's on and runs those lines he's hard to control.Cameron Greenhalgh on Bailey Hartwig
A missed conversion had it 18-14 and Hartwig nearly got the leveller shortly after following a brilliant chip and chase.
The Rams had other opportunities to attack late on but Monaro held firm to claim victory.
"If we kick two more goals it's a draw and if we catch a couple of cross-field kicks we probably win," Greenhalgh said.
"The boys know it and now what we need to do.
"You need to be at your best in these Country Championships and in the first half we weren't right in it.
"The second half we played some expansive footy and them under the pump."
A "rev-up" from the coach to Hartwig may have played a part in his stellar second half showing.
"He was really good," the coach said.
"Had a chat to him after he was a bit quiet in the first half because when he's on and runs those lines he's hard to control.
"He might have needed the rev-up."
Greenhalgh also refused to use late changes to his side as an excuse for the defeat.
Halfback Harry Siejka was ruled out just days before the match after suffering and ankle injury at training while Wade Kavanagh, originally named on the bench, also missed out.
Toby Westcott, who's joined Orange Hawks from the North Sydney Bears, was called in to partner Nick Greenhalgh in the halves while Nyngan recruit Guy Thompson replaced Kavanagh and impressed with his metres and offloads off the bench.
The Rams will take on the Greater Northern Tigers at Tamworth next weekend with a win needed to be any chance of advancing to the finals.
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