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A blistering first half paved the way for Easts Tigers 31-18 victory over Mackay Cutters in yesterdays qualifying final at Virgin Australia Stadium.

The visiting Tigers started the match firing on all cylinders and with a mountain of possession on their side opened up a 26-0 lead at the break.

However, inspired by a vocal home crowd, the Cutters mustered a second half comeback to reduce the deficit to 12 points.

But Easts held their nerve in the dying stages and iced the win when playmaking utility Grant Giess landed a field goal in the 77th minute.

The Tigers will now play the Northern Pride in Cairns this Sunday for a place in the grand final.

One focal point prior to the match was the inclusion of Melbourne Storm five-eighth Gareth Widdop, with the England international making his comeback from a dislocated hip via the Intrust Super Cup.

Ive been through two to three weeks of solid training now, there were a few nerves there but I was quietly confident and things came up alright, Widdop said.

We had two sessions (before the match) and we kept them fairly simple but the boys played really well today and Im just happy I contributed in some way towards the win.

Regardless of Widdops presence, it was the Tigers pack that set the tone early.

Starting at hooker, Giess dived over at dummy half to open the scoring before Easts went on to post three tries in a scintillating 11 minute period.

Fullback Ben Hampton was heavily involved, touching down off a second man play while also setting up Cody Walker with a long-range break from the Tigers half.

Trailing 26-0, the Cutters drew first blood after the interval when mammoth centre Michael Koko barged through the defence.

They then went back-to-back to cut the margin to 30-18 with 18 minutes to play.

But a miracle victory remained out of reach, with execution during the crucial moments letting the Cutters down.

Mackay coach Kim Williams provided a brutally honest post-game assessment and admitted his side hasnt been at the top of their game for about a month.

In that first half we were very lazy on the inside we didnt work hard enough in the kick chase, we were very poor in the reload out of the tackle and (didnt show) urgency to get back on-side, he said.

It wasnt the performance I had expected... Im hoping the threat of sudden death next weekend turns things around because it wasnt acceptable for a finals game.

The Cutters will be looking to keep their 2013 campaign alive against the Ipswich Jets at Virgin Australia Stadium on Saturday night.

EASTS TIGERS 31 (Ben Hampton, Maeli Seve, Cody Walker, Dane Hogan, Grant Giess tries; Cody Walker 5 goals; Grant Giess field goal) def MACKAY CUTTERS 18 (Michael Koko 2, Sam Hoare tries; Liam Taylor 3 goals) at Virgin Australia Stadium.