Group 20 rugby league
TULLIBEGEAL Lakes United is one win away from sealing their second consecutive grand final berth after defeating West Wyalong 26-18 yesterday.
After a flourish of points in the first half, the second was a much closer contest with both teams going scoreless until Jarrad Cahill's second try in the 78th minute ensured the Sharks victory.
There was plenty of action early in the match with seven tries scored in the first half before the two rivals got into an arm wrestle in the second, with the defence from both rising in the pressure situation.
The Sharks reversed the recent Group 20 finals trend to defeat the Mallee Men, becoming only the sixth third-placed team in the past 20 seasons to win the qualifying semi-final.
Michael Mogliotti was outstanding for the Sharks with the second-rower scoring a hat trick down the right edge.
Front rower Nick Puntoriero opened the scoring for West Wyalong on five minutes before two quick to Mogliotti had the Shark's noses in front 10-6 after 14 minutes.
In a see-sawing first half, tries to Andrew Preston and Rohan Louden put the Mallee Men back in front after 30 minutes before the Sharks gained the ascendancy coming into the break when Cahill scored before Mogliotti completed his hat trick crossing the line with 30 seconds left on the clock.
Leading 22-18 at the break, TLU were under the pump from the Mallee Men to start to half but their defensive line didn't crack as both teams couldn't come up with the play to get them over the line.
Persistence paid off for the Lakes who will now travel to Hay to take on minor premiers Leeton with a grand final spot up for grabs, while the Mallee Men will face Yenda in their do-or-die minor semi-final on Sunday.
TLU coach Brent Pike was impressed with the defensive effort of his team, which he said won the match for the Sharks.
"It came down to our defense. In the first half and second half we defended our line for 10 to 15 minutes straight without the ball and that's what won the game for us," Pike said.
"Full credit to our boys we dug deep, stuck to our structures like we talked about at the start of the week and everything worked out."
Pike will now come up against his former team Leeton for the third time this season as both teams look to book their place in the grand final.
It will be a big opportunity for both teams, with the Sharks looking to repeat the result of last year's major semi-final after defeating West Wyalong in the corresponding fixture last season.
"The fact we haven't used our second chance in the first week of the finals is good so we still have that up our sleeves if we happen to misfire next week," Pike said.