Kurri Kurri has missed the finals courtesy of a 76th minute field goal by Central Newcastle's Ethan Cook to break a 12-all deadlock at St John's Oval on Sunday.
The Bulldogs had to win the match after Cessnock upset second-placed South Newcastle 18-14 at Townson Oval on Saturday.
Cessnock will now play Maitland in the elimination final at the Maitland Sportsground, while the in-form Central meet Souths in the qualifying final.
Souths have lost their past two games since beating Western Suburb.
The Rosellas, who have the first week off in the semi-finals, continued to tune up with a 38-18 win in which former Picker Ryan Walker scored a hat-trick.
Central, coached by former Bulldog great Phil William, opened the scoring on Sunday with a converted try to Cody Bryant.
However, the Bulldogs struck back eight minutes after through hooker Tom McKenzie.
Brent Mendyk converted the goal and the two teams were back on level terms.
But soon after Central halfback Brad Murray potted a penalty goal for an 8-6 lead which the Butcher Boys took to the break.
Central winger Mark Bates scored first after the break with a try, but Murray missed the conversion for a 12-6 break.
Kurri's star halfback Jarom Haines crossed for a try in the 64th minute and when Mendyk converted the game was locked up again.
A draw would have left the Bulldogs with 15 points and fifth place courtesy of a superior points differential, however. amazingly it would left the Pickers and Butcher Boys both locked on 16 points with an identical points differential of -56.
While they may have scraped into the finals, Cessnock are the only team which can boast victories over the top two teams Wests and Souths.
But they also have lost their two games against their first round finals opponent Maitland.
The Goannas 18-14 win was an amazing turnaround from a 57-0 smashing by Wests last week.
"Considering where we were seven days ago it was a tremendous performance, a very good win," Goannas coach Todd Edwards said.
"Unfortunately, despite the win it was out of our hands.
"We paid for that over the previous two rounds with being run down by Lakes after leading 22-nil and we didn't turn up last week and got 60 put on us.
"The standards we set at the start of the year were back, the energy was back.
"We really had a good crack, it's all I ask.
"All our forwards peform well.
Sam Apthorpe was really, really good, Kori Barber was good, Blake Andrews was really good, and Connor Kirkwood, Scott Briggs all had strong performances.
"A really good performance, but so disappointing if we miss out.
"To come back from 60-0 showed real character.
"I was very harsh on them last week and verbally very tough on them but I thought they deserved it as I really did think there was a lack of effort at times last week.
"That's why I questioned them, but I couldn't question them today. That's the joys of coaching.
"It will be nice to have another crack at Maitland again as they've beaten us twice this year. It would be good to get the win in the finals."