The Cessnock Goannas stepped up a gear when required to over-run the Maitland Pickers with four tries in the final 20 minutes for a 34-16 win.
Bottom side Maitland were pushing the Goannas and the scores were locked at 16-all early in the second half as a big parochial Pickers crowd sensed an upset at Maitland Sportsground.
But as he has done regularly throughout the season, powerful centre Brayden Musgrove sliced through the Maitland defence and powered across for his second try of the day shortly before the mid-term break.
The conversion straight in front gave Goannas a six-point lead and it became a procession after that as the Goannas lifted across the board and ran in three more tries including the second of a double for Joe Woodbury.
With a heavily strapped knee and limping at times Liam Foran willed himself around the field and across the line for a try.
Joseph Barber also crossed while Scott Haynes claimed his first try in Cessnock's top grade. Angus Mackenzie made his debut for the visitors.
Goannas coach Todd Edwards said his side had been below their best against a committed Maitland side.
"We wanted the slippers on today and not the boiler suits. It took us to the last 20 minutes to put them away," Edwards said.
"We are capable on our day of playing very good football, but we can't afford to turn off like that in the finals.
"It's between the ears, we spoke about it pre-game. It shouldn't have been hard to get up but it was.
Edwards said while the extended break from playing didn't help it wasn't an excuse as Maitland had also not played since the end of August.
"Both sides were scratchy and it was hot, but we need to be better if we are contenders."
"I was really impressed by Liam Foran he really put in for the team. Connor Kirkwood was really good through the middle, he tried really hard and Robert Tuliatu started and was very good throughout the day."
"We had a few missing, five or probably six out, but there is no excuse. Blokes come in and had some kids make their debut but there was some stuff we need to do better.
"We are in the semis, it's where we finish now.
"Our goal was always to get a home semi and it helps our town and our supporters to play at home so that is our goal at the moment.
"We need to get ourselves ready to play Lakes in two weeks and if we get that job done we get a home semi."
Cessnock's Blues Tag team had a 38-0 loss to a red-hot Maitland team. Reserve grade had the bye.
The Goannas host Kurri Kurri in reserve grade and Nelson Bay in Blues Tag on Saturday. First grade has the bye.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.