TULLIBIGEAL Lakes United has earned a direct passage through to the Group 20 decider after pipping West Wyalong in a thrilling major semi-final at Ron Crowe Oval yesterday.
In an epic clash worthy of a grand final in itself, Sharks centre Shane Bell went from villain to hero in the space of minutes as a knock-on from a kick-off allowed the Mallee Men to retake the lead with five minutes remaining.
But in one last attacking surge Bell broke the line, which led to the Sharks crashing over out wide to be the first side through to the decider for 2012.
TLU coach Anthony Chambeyron was speechless afterwards, saying his side rose to the challenge he set them of showing him how much they wanted to make the jump from pretenders to contenders.
"I gave the boys a fair serve at half-time, I actually lost it a bit," Chambeyron said. "I asked them if they wanted to be fair-dinkum about this and if they wanted to play in grand final,"
"But their spirit in the second half was amazing, especially considering the opposition who were pretty handy and Willy Jones was on-song and the place where we were playing.
"It was a tough game, but the Hurricanes were tough, DPC were tough it was just about the boys being mentally tough.
"They'd passed all of the tests to date, but I just said they have got to want it more
West Wyalong Greg Blackstock said there was a stony silence in the change room after the game, which he took as a good sign that the loss hurt his side.
"It really could have gone either way, we were up late, but they kept coming and so did we, it's just one of those things," Blackstock said.
"We did that last year when we had to use our second chance, but they were pretty quiet in the sheds after the game, which is a good thing because they're passionate about the team.
Despite not having a tough hit out for four weeks, the Mallee men showed no signs of sluggishness in the first 20 minutes.
"A lot of people where talking about that, but we had or two replacements left to finish the game so really the boys ran the game out well," Blackstock said.
After an arm-wrestle in the first 20 minutes, TLU crossed first to take the narrow lead before Jones scored the first of his two tries for the afternoon as West Wyalong drew level with the score locked at 12-all at half-time.
Jones gave the Mallee Men the lead 24-18 with his second try before TLU scored the next two to take a handy 28-24 lead.
But Bell's knock off the restart gave West Wyalong the chance they needed with the converted try give them a two-point lead.
"You could imagine how I felt, we'd just scored to get in front and then we turn the ball over straight away," Chambeyron said.
"I had that feeling of 'here we go again against Wyalong' we'd done all of the hard work to get in front and we let them get us in a nail-biter again.
"But we got a good set and a penalty and then he (Bell) went from villain to hero."
The final try sparked wild celebrations from the large Sharks' supporter group, however, the win was soured by the potentially serious injuries to Michael Mogliotti (groin) and Michael Mitchell (hamstring) with the pair failing to finish the game.