Manildra vs. Canowindra was advertised as a potential game of the year candidate in the 2021 Woodbridge Cup title race, and boy did it deliver.
The undefeated Tigers enjoyed a 32-16 advantage with less than 10 minutes remaining at Jack Huxley Oval, but the Red V refused to give up, finishing the game with 16 unanswered points to salvage a 32-all draw.
It was a heavyweight battle that featured an array of spectacular performances as Luke Petrie racked up five try assists, while Canowindra utility Ryan Clark announced himself as one of the most deadly weapons in the competition.
And even though the sides will take a point each away from the match, you can't help but think it was the one that got away from the undefeated Tigers.
When Ryan Clark's try was converted in the 64th minute, the Tigers held a 32-16 lead and would have been $1.01 on the NOP.
But, Canowindra coach Kev Grimshaw didn't necessarily see it that way, and was content with a share of the spoils after an 80-minute roller coaster.
"We'll take the draw," Grimshaw said.
"The way we played, we just didn't do enough to win the game but we didn't do enough to lose the game either. I'll walk away with the draw.
"I was very disappointed we let them come back because we should have had it won when we were up 32-16. I always knew they were going to come back at us."
The opponents exchanged tries early on before Canowindra big man George Lolo was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.
The Red V didn't waste any time capitalising on the one-man advantage as a Luke Petrie cutout special saw Zac Reimer dive over in the corner, giving Rhinos an 8-6 advantage.
But the Tigers pounced after that as some Jonico Hardwick handy work resulted in a try down the left edge, before a barnstorming Kane Earsman crashed over, leaving the scores at 16-8.
Manildra then had their say, going back-to-back through Mick Smith and Jayden Fahey, bringing the scoreboard to 16-all.
From then, the Tigers went on another run as the impact of Ryan Clark proved deadly around the ruck, as did the offloading ability of Ronald Lawrence.
Nathan Whatman, Hardwick and Clark put three meat pies on the board as the Tigers seemingly put the nail in the coffin.
But, when Mick Smith pounced on a Will Petrie grubber six minutes later, it was game on at 32-20. It took three minutes for the Rhinos to score again, and with the scores at 32-26, they made 70 metres off the ensuing kick-off.
Luke Petrie again proved his worth in the dying stages, popping up an inside ball for fullback Kaleb Mullins who crashed over alongside the sticks, the conversion bringing the scores to 32-all.
"We had a look at the score board and the clock and thought we were home," Grimshaw added.
"We didn't want to do the hard yards. It took one set in the last five minutes for that game to be turned around. Once they got the momentum, we couldn't get it back.
"Full credit to them... they didn't drop their heads and they just kept coming."
Luke Petrie was impressed at his side's ability to erase 16 points so quickly, but isn't taking the result for anything more than what it is.
"We finished well but it's still only one point," he said.
"It's not a win. We've still got a lot to work on. It shows we can match it with the top teams but we would have been a lot happier with the win."
Coming into Sunday's game, Manildra had conceded less than 60 points all season but they leaked more than half that amount against the Tigers.
Why? Raw "talent."
"They've got some speed all over the park and a big forward pack that rolls forward. It's hard to stop once they get going and those quick blokes come through the middle.
"They're a quality team but defensively for us, it's not good enough."
Petrie did take plenty of positives out of the match, and is happy his troops have seen how closely they can play the competition's benchmark.
"The boys probably haven't had that confidence," he said.
"They've won a lot of games but to finally match it with the top teams, it gives them the confidence going forward. They belong at the top."
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