ORANGE Hawks preparations for the 2014 Group 10 premier league finals are in disarray following an insipid 36-8 loss to Bathurst Panthers on Saturday.
Played at Wade Park minus both Arty Shead and in-form hooker Mitch Hurford, the two blues matched it with the men in black for just 15 minutes in the first half and clung to an 8-all scoreline at the time before Panthers turned it on to score five unanswered tries in the final round rout.
Centre Blake Lawson was the star, bagging four tries and four goals in a 24-point haul for the visitors.
Panthers' finals ambitions now rest in the hands of Orange CYMS.
Hanging on to the top five leading into this weekend's final round, CYMS tackle St Pat's on Sunday in Bathurst and a green and gold loss will ensure Panthers clinch fifth place on the 2014 ladder.
"Most of the boys said they'll stroll down tomorrow for a look," Panthers five-eighth Matt Rose said.
"It's all out of our hands. We had to win today and I guess for 24 hours we're up there. We'll know this time tomorrow where we'll be. We could be back here next Saturday."
Rose then praised the work of barnstorming centre Lawson.
"He had a great day, Laws," he said.
"He's hard to defend against and I think they had Morts on him. He did a good job out there and got the four tries and kicked goals.
WHAT MATT ROSE HAD TO SAY AFTER SATURDAY'S GAME:
"It was a hard game to play. Knowing we could possibly play Hawks next week we didn't want to bring everything out, and a few of us come off with about 20 to go just to hold back a little bit.
"Our second phase probably got them on the back foot and we managed to finish the tries off then."
Their season on the line, Panthers flew out of the blocks to lead 8-nil with Lawson bagging an early brace thanks largely to some wonderful lead-up work from Blake Dean.
But Hawks found their feet after 15 minutes of early frustration and when young pivot Keegan Harding grubbered for himself to re-gather and score, then Tim Mortimer put winger Justin Howarth over, the scores levelled at 8-all.
Then, Lawson's third six minutes before the break was enough to hand Panthers a six point advantage at halftime.
It turned out to be the nail in Hawks coffin.
Although trying in the opening exchanges of the second period, a seemingly disinterested and often disorientated Hawks never really matched with the Panthers throughout the final 40 minutes.
Testament to that nonchalance, one of Brock McGarity's kick-off restarts from the centre of halfway sailed out on the full by almost 15 metres.
In the end, Lawson's fourth and relatively soft tries to Jake Betts, William Kennedy and prop Osea Sadrav put the polish on an impressive Panthers victory at Wade Park.
"You can't play footy games like that and expect to be a shot in the finals," Hawks captain-coach Tim Mortimer said, his side guaranteed to host next weekend's elimination semi-final regardless of any final round results this weekend.
"We've got to sharpen things up quick smart or we're going to be found out next week."
After nine wins in a row, the two blues have now lost their last two contests.
"It's a bit of an attitude problem at the moment," Mortimer continued.
"I'm trying to put my finger on it. It's very disappointing."
A forward short with the absence of Shead, Mortimer's men simply couldn't withstand a barrage of second-phase play from Panthers men up front, Blake Seager especially outstanding.
And it proved costly.
"It's something you can't allow. The deeper you get into those games the harder they are to contain. We defended a lot but in the last 10 minutes we couldn't wrap them up," Mortimer added.
"There's no one to blame but ourselves. We've got to fix it.
"We need to turn up next week with a different mind-set or we're going to end up out of the competition."
Brock McGarity dislocated a finger on his left hand in the first half but played on only to leave the field with 10 minutes remaining on the clock.
Mortimer said McGarity's leaving of the field late in the game was precautionary.
BATHURST PANTHERS 36 (Blake Lawson 4, William Kennedy, Jake Betts, Osea Sadrav tries; Lawson 4 goals) def ORANGE HAWKS 8 (Keegan Harding, Justin Howarth).