The Mackay and District Rugby League season reached its semi-final stage at the weekend, with Wests Mackay Tigers facing Townsville Brothers in the qualifying final at Mackay Junior Rugby League Grounds.
In what was a fierce battle of the two best sides in this year's Components Only A Grade competition, it was Townsville who held their nerve against a gallant Wests to punch their ticket into the MDRL big dance.
Sam Murphy got the Brethren on the scoreboard first after a costly Wests mistake coming out of their own red zone - the lock forward latching onto a short ball and powering over next to the posts to give the visitors a 6-0 lead.
They doubled their lead off the back of a penalty when hooker Nathan Norford burrowed his way under the Tigers goal line defence to score next to the posts.
The hosts found a response however; with fullback Evander Cummins doing it all himself as he stood up several Brothers defenders on a surging run to the try line to cut the deficit in half.
A knock-on deep in their own half put the minor premiers under pressure and Norford bagged another try, splitting the Tigers' defence close to the line to push Townsville’s lead to 18-6 at the break.
West Mackay were first to strike in the second half when Zac Walker stormed through a hole in the Townsville defence, muscling his way across to score under the posts.
Ill-discipline once again cost the Tigers though as Brothers scored off the back of a penalty - Jack Lote barging over from close range to give the visitors a 12-point buffer once more.
But Wests hit back straight away with a slick backline movement leading to Jake Thornton running onto the ball through an overlap and crossing out wide.
Sam Cook’s excellent sideline conversion brought the home side within a converted try, keeping the crowd on edge in a thrilling opening match of the finals series.
Kellen Jenner's try down the right flank allowed the Tigers to close the gap to just two points with 20 minutes of the contest remaining, but it was close as they got as Townsville gamely hung-on right until the full-time siren, getting home 24-22.
“Our middle won it for us tonight,” said Townsville coach Roy Baira post-match.
“Wests are very tough and very professional.
Last week [against Wests] was really tough for us as well, but we assessed some things, worked on some trick plays to find weaknesses in their defence, and came down this week and really put on a good performance.”
The Tigers will now face Carltons Devils in the preliminary final this weekend, after Souths' unfortunate withdrawal from the elimination final due to a shortage of players.
For Brothers, they earn the week off and await the winner in the 2020 grand final.