IF Mudgee’s Group 10 season wasn’t already in free-fall, it certainly is now.
The Dragons fell to their sixth loss in seven matches on Sunday with Cowra booking a date with Bathurst St Pat’s in next week’s major semi-final.
It has been 19 years since the Magpies have played in a Group 10 premier league grand final, and they are only one match away from hosting one.
Their 36-16 victory was set up by their four tries in the first half through Jay McClintock, Toby Nobes, KJ Wood and Ben Gunn.
Four of their six tries came from kicks; two of them were a result of Mudgee mistakes from those kicks.
There were jubilant scenes at full-time for the black and whites, and their victory team song - sung in the sheds - was belted out with gusto.
“We are all bloody excited,” a wide-smiling Cowra captain Ronald Lawrence said.
“We knew we had to come up here and match them in the middle and we did that. We got the backs some good clean ball and we scored the points.”
For Mudgee, it was another nail in their coffin, which, after their run of 10 wins earlier in the season, seemed to be a crazy thought.
But co-captain Jared Robinson said there was no point complaining, his team needs to pull their finger out.
“We can whinge about having no troops but at the end of the day we have to put in a performance that warrants a win and we didn’t get that today,” Robinson said.
“We have to get to training and put it on the training paddock; a little bit more commitment.
“I can’t fault the boys’ efforts, we tried real hard out there.
“Individual mistakes at crucial times and you can’t do those in semi-final football. They capitalised on every one of our mistakes.”
James O’Connell spilled a Tim Holman bomb into the arms of Cowra’s Warren Williams and the centre off-loaded it to McClintock to open the scoring.
Mudgee’s kick-off restart went out on the full but they got a reprieve a short time later when Holman was sin-binned for dissent.
With a one-man advantage, Robinson dummied and sliced his way through a massive gap to put Mudgee level at 6-all.
But that was the only joy for Mudgee in the half as Cowra scored three tries in 10 minutes.
The first to Wood then to Nobes in the corner and a third to Gunn after Ben Thompson coughed up another Holman bomb into the arms of the replacement.
Mudgee needed to score first in the second half to have any hope and it came in the 11th minute when Terry Wood’s pass found Chris Ward who scored.
The tide of the game started to turn in Mudgee’s favour as the home side had all the ball and territory, and Cowra were out on their feet.
Mudgee missed two opportunities to close the gap by dropping the ball on both occasions with the try-line near.
The first time Cowra got on a roll they scored. William Ingram barged his way through some poor defence to make it 28-12.
Mudgee regathered the ball from the kick-off and a few plays later, Tom Lewsley scored in the corner to set up a grandstand finish.
With seven minutes to go, Cowra was awarded a penalty and from 40 metres out, Jeremy Gordon hammered home a further two points to make it 30-16.
Any hope of a miracle comeback by the Red V ended when Gordon’s grubber kick was pounced on by Phil Ingram in the 79th minute.
Lawrence said the whole town of Cowra will be behind his team when they play St Pat’s in next week’s major semi-final.
“We haven’t beaten them this season but we have been right with them the whole time. If we play smarter football we will get them,” he said.
Robinson said it was not all lost for Mudgee, who now have to play the in-form Bathurst Panthers at Glen Willow.
“We didn’t finish second for no reason, we are a good football side,” Robinson said.
“Yes we have some injuries but we still got the troops there, it is hard to get that confidence when you haven’t had a win in a while.
“Winning becomes a habit and unfortunately so does losing, we just need something to go our way. It’s only a bounce of the ball, something small but we drastically need something.”
COWRA MAGPIES 36 (Phil Ingram, William Ingram, Jay McClintock, Toby Nobes, KJ Wood, Ben Gunn tries; Jeremy Gordon 6 goals) def MUDGEE DRAGONS 16 (Tom Lewsley, Jared Robinson, Chris Ward tries; Josh Crowe 2 goals)