The Macleay Valley Mustangs have booked a date with the Wauchope Blues in the Group Three Rugby League grand final after they defeated the Port City Breakers 38-26 in Kempsey today.
The scoreboard favoured the Breakers, as they trailed the Mustangs 22-4 at half-time and 38-16 late in the second half, before they crossed for two late consolation tries.
Macleay Valley were fired a warning shot with their first attack, as fullback Owen Blair split the defence and went over but he was penalised for a double movement.
The away side then dominated possession for the next 15-minutes as they put together wave after wave of attack but the Mustangs were desperate in defence and performed numerous try savers on their own line.
However, Port City eventually found a weakness when they ran the ball on the last and winger Clint Walker dove over in the corner.
The Breakers were unable to control the ball from the resulting kick off and it proved costly.
Mustangs captain Richie Roberts shrugged off three defenders close to the line and reached out to open the Mustangs' account.
The very next set, Stephan Blair kicked a 40/20 and two plays later Kaine Parkinson, who had shifted to the halves pre-game, sold a dummy and sprinted over to extend the Mustangs' lead to 12-4.
Macleay Valley were on a roll and Roberts, who was his tireless self for the full 80-minutes, broke through the Port City defence and wrong footed the fullback and dove over for his second.
The Mustangs completed the half in style as Tyler Roberts got his arms free and offloaded to Jeremy Taylor, who drew the Breakers fullback and found Conrad Lardner on the inside, who extended the lead to 22-4 for half-time.
After the break, Port City were determined to get themselves back in the contest and tries to centre Ricky Arnell and winger Jarrod Robbins reduced the deficit to 22-16.
But Port City's hopes of a comeback were dashed in a 10-minute period of dominance and electric attack from the home side.
While on the attack and close to the Breakers line, fullback Owen Blair threw a two-man cut out pass to winger David Davis who strolled over.
From the kick off, backrower Jesse Douglas broke the Breakers line and found Stephan Blair on the inside who sprinted away to score.
The Blair brothers then combined for an enterprising play, which started at the halfway line.
Stephan chipped the ball over the top of the Breakers defence, Owen gathered it and immediately put it on the toe, showcased his tremendous speed to be first to the ball and dove over to extend the lead to 38-16.
With the 22-point cushion, the Mustangs' focus dropped off in the final 12-minutes.
A high tackle close to the line gave the Breakers a penalty try before Port City scored a consolation four-pointer in the final minute.
An emotional Mustangs coach Russell Lardner was lost for words after booking a place in the grand final, as he was swamped by family and friends.
The majority of the Macleay Valley players made sacrifices to return to their hometown club at the beginning of the season and Lardner credited the belief they brought to the team for their preliminary final victory.
"There's a lot of hard work that went into that victory," Lardner told the Argus.
"Everyone came together for this. We all had belief at the start of the season that we could do something special and we proved it today.
"Now we need to finish it off against Wauchope next week, we are going to give it everything."
Two unsung heroes from the contest were Josef Barber and Adam McMurray, who took countless tough carries in the opening exchanges when the Mustangs were struggling to get out of their own territory.
Parkinson, who plays fullback for the Under-18.5s side which will also compete on grand final day, also showed plenty of class.
The Mustangs take on the Wauchope Blues in the Group Three Rugby League grand final next Sunday.
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