The Kurri Kurri Bulldogs kept their season alive giving a red-hot South Newcastle a lesson in uncompromising hard-nosed footy at the Kurri Kurri Sportsground on Saturday.
The atmosphere was electric and the noise from a packed Old Boys section reverberated around The Graveyard as the Bulldogs set up tantalising final-round clash against Central Newcastle with third spot and a double chance up for grabs at St Johns Oval on Sunday.
However, Kurri will be sweating on news of a knee injury to inspirational second-rower and leadership group member Mitch Cullen.
Cullen, the Bulldogs X-factor along with halfback Jarom Haines, went down clutching his knee after a attempting a tackle midway through the second half.
The Bulldogs will learn his fate this week when he undergoes scans.
South were the in-form team of the competition going into the match with a 14-12 victory against top side Western Suburbs at Harker Oval last Sunday, but it was the Bulldogs who looked more creative and dangerous with the ball and stouter in defence.
The scores were 12-6 at half-time courtesy of a first-half double by Bulldogs winger Barry MGrady and two conversions by Brent Mendyk.
Jayden Young extended the Bulldogs lead with converted try two minutes after half-time.
The Lions struck back in the 55th minutes for an 18-12 game but after the Bulldogs were denied what appeared a try for a forward pass, Ngangarra Barker crossed soon after and Mendyk kicked his fourth for a 24-12 lead.
A late try gave the Lions hope but the Bulldogs successful negotiated the final minutes to get home.
Hooker Tom McKenzie played 75 minutes in a display which typified the Bulldogs never-say-die effort.
"It was an unreal team effort that's the main thing, some individual performances helped along the way but mostly it was a team effort.," McKenzie said.
"Seventy-five minutes in the middle was pretty hard but I had a job to do.
"They were coming off a pretty big win and we knew we had to turn up against them and be right on our game. If we lost we knew we probably wouldn't play semis so it was a must-win game and we did that.
"We'll take that form into next week. We win and we can come third get a double chance, but I've got faith no matter where we finish if we're in the finals we can go all the way."
McKenzie said Cullen was a huge part of the team and everyone was hoping for the best possible news on his injury.
"We're hoping it isn't too bad and that he will be back with us next week," he siad.
Bulldogs coach Ron Griffiths said he could not be prouder of his players' effort on a big day for the club.
"There were that many blokes today that I could give the coach's award to it was phenomenal," he said.
"We made some mistakes but that's footy, we'll learn from them and be better next week.
"The boys delivered on what was asked of them as a team and as individuals and that's what it takes."
Griffiths paid special tribute to his support and fitness staff for their excellent work in keeping the team fit and out on the field.