The Maitland Blacks are one win from the grand final after a huge defensive effort against a red-hot Nelson Bay.
The Blacks withstood everything the Gropers could throw at them and then unleashed a memorable final 20 minutes of attacking, running football to bridge a seven-point gap and run out 23-15 winners at Newcastle No.2 Sportsground on Sunday.
They now face Merewether Carlton in the preliminary final after the Greens were beaten 36-28 by Hamilton in Saturday’s major semi-final.
“A fantastic result by the guys, they really dug deep today,” an elated Blacks co-coach Ryan McCormack said after the game.
“Defence wins you premierships and there was no doubt our defence today was the highlight of our season to date.
“We weathered lots and lots of storms within our 22 and we didn’t give away that many penalties either. We were able to lock in and force a mistake or turnover.
“In the first half we probably had 10 per cent of the possession and one entry into the 22 and we scored to go into the break 5-12.
“Obviously running into the wind in the second half we knew it was going to be a tough effort, but in the end we knew once we had the football opportunities would come and they did.”
Every Blacks player pulled off a memorable moment in either defence or somehow summoning the energy to break the Gropers line to gain valuable metres running into a stiff wind which made a kicking game almost redundant.
None were better than co-captains Michael Howell and Chris Logan, Anderson-medal winners Nick Davidson and Carl Manu and the Blacks superb Kiwi giant Travis Brooke.
But there were plenty of other herculean efforts including Alastair Fraser who after playing 80 minutes in reserve grade came on early in the game to replace John Birrell who left the ground with concussion.
Birrell will miss next week but should be available for the grand final if the Blacks beat Merewether on Saturday.
“When we wanted our big guys Chris, Carl, Travis, Davo to stand up they all made some important runs today that put us on the front foot and we were able to make inroads as a result of it,” McCormack said.
“Credit to the guys, we stuck to our guns, we didn’t throw the 50-50 passes and every opportunity we got we took it.
“It’s a really pleasing result for a coach to know that realistically we didn’t leave too many tries out there. Every opportunity we got we cashed in.”
Fittingly the all-team effort was fully demonstrated and rewarded with the winning try coming off a win against the feed in a scrum and the ball spread quickly through the backs for Dale Clacherty to score out wide.