By ADAM WRATTEN
MURWILLUMBAH held off a gallant Cudgen fightback to win yesterday's derby 43-34 at Stan Sercombe Oval and clinch second spot on the Northern Rivers Regional Rugby League premeriship ladder.
The Hornets looked dead and buried when Murwillumbah's Lionel Foster scored early in the second half to put the Mustangs 36-8 up.
However, Cudgen rallied and came close to pulling off an unlikely victory.
The loss means Cudgen take on Ballina next week at Ned Byrne Field in a sudden-death playoff, while Murwillumbah tackle minor premiers Seagulls, who scored a 50-28 victory over South Tweed yesterday, in a fortnight's time.
The winner of that match will advance directly to the grand final (for full wrap of semifinal action see story Page 28).
Cudgen coach Jamie Mathiou said his side's performance yesterday was "disgraceful".
"We didn't complete a set in the first 22 minutes and were very poor in defence," Mathiou said.
"There's a long way to go if we want to be competitive, this is a wake-up call for us."
Mathiou said he could be without 10 players for next week's game against Ballina with injuries threatening to derail the club's finals hopes.
Murwillumbah coach Con Theodossiou was happy to come away with the win.
"When they got back to 10 points behind, one more try and it would been game on," Theodossiou said.
"In the first half I thought we played exceptionally well, as they did in the second.
"The worst thing for us was scoring that early try (in the second half). The boys thought they had the game wrapped up."
Winger Ryan Murphy got Murwillumbah off to a flying start, scoring the game's first 10 points.
He opened the scoring with penalty goals in the fifth and eighth minutes before bagging the first try, when he pounced on a Matt Harley bomb that the Cudgen defence failed to defuse.
Back-to-back tries from Brad Wann and Robert Reid mid-way through the half had the Mustangs firmly in the driver's seat.
Brian McCarthy scored the Hornet's first points on the half-hour mark, before Shannon Murphy extended the Mustang's lead.
Troy Dickinovski was next on the try-scoring list and the Hornets were on the attack again not long after as the half-time break neared.
However, Lionel Foster intercepted on his own 10 metre line and raced 85 metres before Cudgen's Damian Bryant mowed him down. Mustangs skipper Glenn Weaver scored from the next play to make the halftime score 32-8. Foster got a try of his own in the second minute of the new half.
MURWILLUMBAH 43 (Tries, S Murphy, R Lang, B Wann, R Murphy, G Weaver, L Foster, R Reid; Goals, R Murphy 7; Field goals, M Harley) d CUDGEN 34 (Tries, J Prichard 2, J Hardy, B McCarthy, C Thurston, C Williams, T Dickinovski; Goals, C Thurston 3).
RESERVE: Cudgen 34 d Murwillumbah 12.
UNDER-18: Murwillumbah 30 d Cudgen 4.