Two underdogs have turned heads to open the Toowoomba Rugby League A grade finals series.
Second and third placed clubs Gatton and Dalby fought out a gripping affair at Cahill Park Sporting Complex on Sunday afternoon.
The Diehards, who finished the regular season in third place, got the better of the second-place finisher and 2023 Madsen Rasmussen Cup champion Hawks 18-14.
The game started evenly, with Joshua Soronakadavu scoring in the fourth minute for Dalby, before Gatton winger Tye Gray scored three minutes later to help square things up.
By the 20th minute the teams had traded scoreboard blows again.
Dalby’s Sam Gilliespie bounced on a loose ball set up by Blake Mara to make it 10-6, followed shortly by Gray again for the Hawks to lock up the scores.
Such was the grinding nature of the game, the scores remained that way until four minutes into the second half.
Who else would it be than gamebreaker Chris Woodbridge to snap the deadlock, set up by player of the match Steve Franciscus, who smartly lured the defence away to allow his fullback to slip through, leading to a 16-10 lead.
Gatton were hanging in, despite some uncharacteristic errors, but Dalby kept their consistency as the clock wound down.
In the 77th minute, a Chris Woodbridge penalty goal all but put the game away.
Gatton's Blake Appo scored in the corner in the dying stages but the full-time hooter went before the conversion was attempted.
Steve Franciscus and Blake Mara were very good for Dalby on the back of an outstanding forward pack.
The Hawks only had themselves to blame but they did enough to show they will still be a force in the finals. Shannon Hicks, Joel Brett and Luke Self were among the best.
Dalby are now only one game away from a grand final berth, which they will need to earn away to minor premiers Valleys on Sunday afternoon.
Gatton will get a second chance at home on Saturday night, when they will take on Warwick.
The Cowboys, who finished the regular season in fifth, knocked off traditional rivals and defending premiers Wattles Warriors in the elimination final 26-20 at Platz Oval.
The Cowboys dominated the first 25 minutes, setting up camp in Wattles half
to lead 14-0 after 23 minutes thanks to tries from Morgan Byrne and Haydon
Raumati, the latter with his first touch of the ball.
Wattles stopped the rot in the 32nd minute when Jake Meddleton out-jumped
Jake Speed to score out wide and make it 14-4 at half time.
Wattles had more enthusiasm after the break and slowly regained field position and evened up possession.
Warriors captain Ty Gardner scored one of the tries of the season in the 47th minute to bring the crowd to their feet and reduce the visitors' lead to four points.
With the game in the balance, a fresh off the bench Harry Sullivan scooted from dummy half to score in the 56th minute to get the Cowboys to 20-10.
Wattles’ crack at advancing the finals was not finished, with Tyson Stevens strolling over in the 69th minute to set up a grandstand finish.
Sullivan proved the man of the moment with three minutes left on the clock, kicking from just inside his own half and winning the race to the ball, putting it on the toe again then falling over in pursuit.
With the still ball rolling around in Wattles in-goal, Cowboys captain Mitch Wilson came from nowhere to dive on the ball and put the result beyond doubt.
The Warriors responded almost immediately through Matt Christensen. but it was too little, too late.
Warwick halfback Nick Carrie was player of the match.
Wattles were gallant in defeat, with Ty Gardner their best, and should be congratulated for an admirable defence of the premiership, while also giving young players an opportunity, which will set them up for future success.
Main image: Dalby's Ratu Dekedeke crashes into the defence
Other finals results
Elimination final: Warwick 28 def Gatton 18
Qualifying final: Valleys 22 def Dalby 18
Elimination final: Goondiwindi 23 def Wattles 22
Qualifying final: Highfields 30 def Dalby 16