THE West Wyalong Mallee Men have earned the right to defend their Group 20 title after pipping the Leeton Greens at the post in a thrilling preliminary final at Narrandera yesterday.
The see-sawing affair saw West Wyalong jump out to a 16-0 lead in the first half before the competition heavyweights slugged it out in the final 20 minutes.
Mallee Men co-coach Willy Jones was all business after the game, saying they did their job and got through to the biggest game of the year, despite lapses.
"We managed to pick it up again which is the main thing," Jones said of giving up their big lead early.
"But Leeton are just that kind of side that if you give them a chance to come back they will. They're a very fit side and they'll keep coming at you.
"We're just moving on now. That result is in the book we just have to focus on the next game.
Leeton president Steve Preston lamented his side's poor last tackle options that saw them unable to crack the Wyalong line despite plenty of possession.
"We had them on the ropes and we managed to fight back and were back in the game at the break," Preston said.
"We just didn't take our chances when we were down there, and Wyalong went down the other end and scored another one.
"We just couldn't get out to that lead of about 10 points in the second half. If we could have done that I think we could have gone on with the game.
"It was a big effort from the boys to get back to a four-point lead after going down early."
Leeton grabbed the lead early in the second half when Chris Smith crashed over to make the score 20-16 in favour of the Greens and the fightback was on.
Jones then snatched back the ascendency for the premiers with the try signalling a big lift in intensity from both outfits, as Mick Loudon gave his side a very handy eight-point lead.
Brent Pike capped an excellent performance off the bench scoring his second for the afternoon to bring his side back to within two.
But a try to Tim Dore and a penalty put the margin beyond doubt as West Wyalong booked a mouth-watering clash with archrivals Tullibigeal Lakes United in the grand final.
West Wyalong reported no major injuries and should name a full-strength side in defence of their Group 20 title for this Sunday's clash.