IT WAS a full-on physical slug-fest when Gympie Devils fronted Kawana at Stockland Park at the weekend, but it was the Dolphins who had the lead by full-time after capitalising on gaps in the Devils' defence.
Top-of-the-table Kawana beat the hard-fighting Devils 30-18 despite a second-half comeback from Gympie.
Kawana had the lead 18-0 at half time, but the Devils ate up the deficit.
The Devils put points on the board with a try by captain and coach Kris Kahler just six minutes into the second half.
Another two tries in three minutes brought the score back to 18-all but Kawana retrieved its lead, crossing the line twice more and holding the Devils out for the remainder of the game.
Kawana captain Paul Cohen said while the Devils presented a strong wall of defence, Kahler said it was slow reactions by the Devils that set them back when it really counted.
He said Kawana made the most of the Devils' slow reactions in the defence and none of their tries came from attacking the line-up.
He said Kawana scored points after 60m-minimum slogs down the field, which is an indication the Devils need to up their defensive effort to prevent more points from slipping through their fingers.
"If they can run 80m down the field, we can chase them from the back," he said.
He said his team was slow off the mark when it came to loose balls and play changes, but they were little things that the side could tidy up.
"It was a few minor things that cost us the game," Kahler said.
The Devils coach said they will look at their performance and work to drop their reaction time before this weekend's Bribie Island clash.
"We'll look at a few things and see how we go from there," he said.
He said the Kawana match was a good indication of the pressure to come at finals time.
"They're a quality side.
"It was good to play them now and get us ready for the semis.
"It was a physical game, they gave it to us and we gave it back," he said.
"I'm a bit disappointed (with the loss) but pretty happy with the way we played," he said.
The last few weeks have seen Gympie face the Caloundra RSL Cup's strong contenders in some physical bouts from well-drilled sides.
Recent losses to front-runners Kawana and Caboolture have put a dent in the Devils' ladder standings and the team has slipped to fifth.
This Sunday's match against bottom-rung Bribie Island may offer the Devils the chance to collect the points they need to jump back into fourth and earn themselves a look-in for the semi-finals.