East Campbelltown Eagles have recorded a gritty 22-16 win over St Marys in week one of the finals.
The 2018 champions are now just one game away from making another grand final in a competition they have dominated since leaving Group Six a few years ago.
But as ANDREW JACKSON reports from St Marys Leagues Stadium, the Eagles had to work hard to overcome a stubborn home side on Saturday afternoon.
St Marys fullback Daniel Brown was impressive at the back for the home side, bringing the ball up with plenty of intent and purpose.
Five-eighth Hayden Bonanno forced an early dropout and St Marys scored the first six points of the day when fellow halves partner Dylan White played it short to a charging Zac Duclos followed with a successful conversion by White himself.
The Campbelltown boys hit right back when Edwin Connor also earned a repeat set for his side and the pressure converted into points as Dwayne Lemafa scored off a well-executed crash ball and Edwin Connor converted to even the score 6-all.
Alapati Potifara proved hard to handle for the Saints edge defence as the left centre broke through for the Eagles and paved the way for Jarryd Eggleton to pounce on a smart kick from Vince Ripepi for a 10-6 lead.
In a seesawing affair, St Marys hit back and pushed the score to 10-all after Moses Feilo crashed over following a burst from Blake McDermott in the 34th minute.
They pushed further ahead when Ripepi nabbed his second try-assist of the day, a pinpoint pass from dummy-half putting Issac Kennedy over, with a conversion, making it 16-10.
But the three-time Shield champions showed their class to run in two late tries and steal victory.
The first to Theo Leato (pictured above) came as Saints failed to clean up the ball in-goal and a lovely short ball from five-eighth Brett Lahey saw brother Grant score the match-winning try ending the scoreboard on 22-16.