The Essential Coffee Burleigh Bears took a giant step towards a top two finish with a come-from-behind 22-12 win over the Townsville Blackhawks at Pizzey Park on Saturday.
Trailing by eight points at the break and with Dylan Phythian (head knock) and Matt Robinson (lower leg) both succumbing to injury, the Bears dug deep to produce possibly their gutsiest win of the season.
"We were close in the first half, but I thought in the second half we just squeezed that little bit extra out and I think it was semi-finals football come early out there," Bears coach Jim Lenihan said.
"No side was willing to give in and to their credit they've done really well today, the boys.
"I thought we got a taste of where we need to take our football and they really responded in the second half and I thought it was great."
It was a relentlessly physical game with both teams leaving it all on the field in what was a semi-final standard contest.
Bears five-eighth Phythian opened the scoring in just the second minute when he grubbered to the corner early in the tackle count and out ran two chasing Blackhawks to score a determined try.
Burleigh had some issues with discipline in the first half and the Blackhawks were good enough to take advantage and control field position for much of the opening half.
The visitors got on the board in the 22nd minute when Kalifa Faifai-Loa drifted across the field looking for a support player. He found Andrew Davey, who hit a hole and handed the Blackhawks the lead.
It was Davey again who crossed for Townsville in the 34th minute when he sliced through on the back of a nice set play.
With a healthy crowd gathered for the annual Old Boys Day, the Bears found another gear in the second half, with Pat Politoni putting Henare Wells away down the sideline just one minute after the break.
Wells tip-toed down the sideline, wore a shot from Carlin Anderson and scored in the corner to cut the margin to two.
Both sides continued to punish each other physically, with Burleigh finding the breakthrough play with 15 minutes to go.
On the last tackle, Jamal Fogarty took the line on and found Kurtis Rowe on the right-hand side. He linked with Josh Berkers who charged to the line and put the Bears back in front.
Burleigh lifted again after hitting the lead and a 70th minute try to Kai O'Donnell from close range was enough to close out the victory.
The win, Burleigh's third on the trot, sees them leap-frog the Blackhawks on the ladder and - if they can win their Round 24 clash with Easts Tigers - they will guarantee themselves a top-two finish.
The Blackhawks can still finish in the top two but will need other results to go their way.
"There is still so much work to go," Lenihan said.
"There has been a real reward for effort today, but everything can be undone really quickly if we drop off."
BURLEIGH BEARS 22 (Dylan Phythian, Henare Wells, Joshua Berkers, Kai O'Donnell tries; Jamal Fogarty 3 goals) def TOWNSVILLE BLACKHAWKS 12 (Andrew Davey 2 tries; Levi Dodd 2 goals) at Pizzey Park.