The Illawarra Cutters have plenty to build on after going down 24-14 to the Cronulla Sharks in their historic first NSW Cup game at WIN Stadium on Saturday.
The Sharks are among the competition favourites and led 12-8 at half-time before the Cutters hit the front 14-12 early in the second term only for Cronulla to run in two late tries to wrap up the match.
While disappointed with the result, Cutters coach Paul McGregor was pleased with their effort in their first showing.
"We only got beaten four tries to three, the penalty count was two to one against us which I thought at times that was a little bit tough," McGregor said.
"We lost a bit of direction when we could've turned the screws at the start of the second half ... we dropped the ball cold from a set play near their line. I think that lost opportunity hurt us in the end. Against good quality sides like Cronulla we've got to make sure we turn those chances into points.
"Look, they're a very good side, they finished third last year, this is their second year together. We're a fresh team and we'll go forward together. We won't go backwards that's for sure.
"The more we play together and the more combinations we start to build over the year means we'll become a force."
A minute's silence was observed before kick-off in memory of Robbie Millward, son of Super League club Castleford head coach Ian Millward and grandson of Illawarra rugby league patriarch Bob Millward. Robbie Millward, 19, died at his home at Leigh, England, recently.
The Cutters opened their account in the 13th minute when right winger Daniel Vidot dived over in the corner for a 4-0 lead.
In the opening stanza the Cutters had little field position allowing the Sharks to set up camp in Illawarra territory.
After Illawarra conceded three quick penalties the Sharks moved the football wide for centre Ricky Leutele to score in the left corner in the 25th minute. Half-back Chad Townsend landed an excellent conversion, his first of four for the game.
Cronulla stretched its lead to 12-4 when centre Will Chambers planted the footy for their second try but on the stroke of half-time and on a rare incursion into the danger zone, Cutters interchange forward Jarrod Thompson crashed over for a try to cut the deficit to four points at the interval.
Just three minutes into the second half, Cutters hooker Cameron King sparked a movement with a sharp break, completed by captain and prop Ray Cashmere who forced his way through for a try which King converted for a 14-12 lead.
The Cutters were close to scoring again but they were unable to execute the crucial play close to the Sharks goal line.
Cronulla regained the lead with two converted tries to Sharks left winger Sosaia Feki in the 64th and 68th minutes but Illawarra's Damien Cook almost scored late in the game with a promising break, kick and chase only to be thwarted by Chambers who snatched the football from under his nose.