MALDON were pipped 30-24 in their Junior Vase semi-final at home to Royston.
The teams, both in form in their respective leagues, were closely matched and it made for a highly-competitive, entertaining tie.
Defence was a key aspect and, man-for-man, Royston had a size advantage over their Maldon counterparts.
Big ball carriers from their pack often took the ball at speed and utilised the off-load effectively, making room to get through the home defensive line.
From a quick pick up, Royston attacked a gap to touch down the first try.
Despite Royston's size advantage and an early injury to Maldon's starting tight-head prop, Jack Mills, the scrums were fairly even, with neither side having a clear advantage.
And Maldon soon came fighting back in both attack and defence.
With ball in hand, Maldon made quick work to get the ball out wide and there was a return score for winger Sam Rhodes.
He outpaced his opposite man to score in the corner.
Royston stretched Maldon to their limit and remained camped in the hosts' 22.
Only a sterling effort in defence kept them out.
Maldon's backline, led by centre Bradley White, forced an error and an interception by wing Sam Langston gave him a length-of-the-field race, shirking off attempted tackles to give Maldon a score under the posts.
Royston's efforts had not yet been undone and a second-half display from both sides kept the crowd entertained.
Royston's hard-hitting running and use of the offload eventually led to them breaking through the Maldon lines.
However, wing Sam Rhodes foiled would-be scorers and there were excellent cover tackles from flanker Brenden Bignall and James Bennett.
Both sides scored twice in the second half.
Maldon's scores came from the wings, with Rhodes and Langston gathering another out wide from quick hands.
Langston almost went over for a third try - only to be denied by a tackle.
In the dying minutes, Royston played the ball into Maldon territory and elected to kick for the points as infringements were made.
Two penalty kicks were converted, giving Royston the win by six points, 30-24.
Maldon were heartbroken at the loss but can take heart from such a positive performance.
Bradley White was nominated man-of-the-match.
Next week Maldon return to league action as they play away to Billericay in the Essex Premier.