The top four teams in the Newcastle Dodgeball League faced difficult challenges in the ninth round of Season 11, as the three-way tie between Shortland, Waratah and Belmont continues into the third month of the campaign.
In the opening fixtures at Oakdale Arena both Shortland and Waratah found themselves in a tight battle come half-time, with the 'Tahs down by two sets to Cooks Hill, while Shortland were locked at 4-apiece with ever-improving Kotara.
While both the Kings and the Crusaders fell short at the final whistle and missed out on the three points in their bid to collect high-seed final finishes, it proved one thing to the top four - there's no easy fixtures in the run-in to finals.
In the later clashes, Hamilton proved they're currently a class above the three chasing teams, clearing Bar Beach with a record-levelling 18-nil victory - the last time a team won by 18 sets was nine seasons ago, when Raymond Terrace accounted for a struggling Merewether Heights outfit by a similar scoreline in the second round of Season 2.
Despite the major deficit however, the Boomers proved they have just fallen prey to poor fortune over the opening two months of the competition, and currently boast the leading MVP-hopeful Emma Hawes, who nearly closed set-victories out for Bar Beach three times.
Hawes currently leads the MVP vote by just a single point, on 10 with five team nominations, but with five more chances to collect points and just two points needed to clear Season 10's top haul, she's beginning to firm as a strong favourite for the best-player gong.
Finally, Raymond Terrace and Belmont played out another cagey clash, with the Beavers just clawing out the three points with two late set wins that pulled them three ahead and confirmed their 9-6 win.
STANDINGS: Hamilton (25), Shortland, Belmont, Waratah (23), Raymond Terrace, Kotara (15), Cooks Hill (11), Bar Beach (8).
RD10: Terrace back in the winner's circle with Stags upset (10/04)
RD9: Belmont and Waratah locked at standstill (03/05)
RD8: Stags down 'Tahs in grudge match battle for third (19/04)
RD7: Belmont bounce back with spoiler win against Kotara (12/04)
RD6: Scotches wave away Belmont bid to stay top (05/04)
RD5: Waratah right season with Raccoons win (29/03)
RD4: Shortland stay undefeated with fourth win (22/03)
RD3: Hamilton claim revenge in grand final rematch (15/03)
RD2: Bar Beach hold off Glendale to bag first win (08/03)
RD1: Waratah sweep aside arch-rivals with major margin (01/03)
PRESEASON: Season 12's draw & key fixtures revealed (08/02/19)
PRESEASON: Rego now open for NDL Season 12. (01/02/18)
GF: Belmont edge out Hamilton in two-set grand final epic (16/11)
FINALS: Hamilton and Belmont set up grand final rematch (9/11)
RD14: Waratah down Belmont in heated one-set thriller (2/11)
RD13: Shortland oust Hamilton from first with one to go (26/10)
RD12: Belmont upset Hamilton to blow first place race open (19/10)
RD11: Shortland take second after thriller against Belmont (12/10/18)
RD10: Waratah tumble into fourth place after slow start (5/10/18)
RD9: Top four teams hold off finals-hopefuls (28/09/18)
RD8: Hamilton claim first as league celebrates Ladies Day (21/09/18)
RD7: Shortland and Kotara clash goes down to the wire (14/09/18)
RD6: Waratah keep close on Hamilton's heels (07/09/18)
RD5: Hamilton prevail in grand final rematch (30/08/18)
RD4: Belmont tumble into ladder mix with defeat (24/08/18)
RD3: Waratah cuts Shortland's undefeated streak short (17/08/18)
RD2: Shortland break Terrace to continue strong start (10/08/18)
RD1: Waratah open account against long-standing rivals (03/08/18)
PRESEASON: Season 11's draw & key fixtures revealed (19/07/18)
PRESEASON: Registrations now open for NDL Season 11. (13/07/18)
GF: Hamilton extend dynasty with fifth championship (06/07/18)
SF: Belmont punch ticket to season decider with comeback (29/06/18)
QF: Raymond Terrace scores maiden finals victory (22/06/18)
RD15: Waratah confirm second place, first week bye (15/06/18)
RD14: Waratah steady the ship with key three-set win (08/06/18)
RD13: Belmont ensures the Waratah slide continues (01/06/18)
RD12: Cooks Hill and Belmont remain level with draw (25/05/18)
RD11: Waratah lose sight of first place after defeat (18/05/18)
RD10: Raymond Terrace shock Cookers in sudden death (11/05/18)
RD9: Cookers drop 'Tahs to second with 6-5 slug-fest (04/05/18)
RD8: Hamilton take revenge in Battle of Oakdale (27/04/18)
RD7: Bailey best on field as 'Tahs in cruise-control (20/04/18)
RD6: Waratah break three-year hoodoo over old rivals (13/04/18)
RD5: Hamilton reclaim first place with 13-0 masterclass (06/04/18)
RD4: League's closest round sees 'Tahs take top spot (23/03/18)
RD3: Cooks Hill record first point with 5-5 draw (16/03/18)
RD2: Sudden-death deciders see Hamilton pip Belmont (09/03/18)
RD1: Waratah-Hamilton classic ends in 6-all draw (02/03/18)