Kurri Kurri has won the race to play in the Newcastle Rugby League Blues Tag postseason, after scoring a vital 26-6 victory over Nelson Bay away from home in the last-gasp round of their campaign.
Their 20-point win, sparked by a double for Sharneakia Nikora and four converted goals and a try from playmaker Holly Fisher-Webster, proved key in the hunt for NRL finals after Maitland were held to a locked 10-10 draw at home.
The Pickers needed a victory over finals-bound Lakes to clinch their place in the top five, with the shared points at the Maitland Sportsground leaving them one point adrift of the postseason positions on 19 points.
The Bulldogs, who clocked up 20 points in total after their win, were helped along to their victorious final game with tries from Robyn Draper and Tarin Burns.
Kate Holland scored the Sharks lone try. Haley Drews slotted the kick.
In the other key fixture, the Seagulls struck first to put the Pickers on the back foot. Lakes star Sam Redman played a starring role as she set up the first four-pointer. Both Tempe Oke and Mia Peden scored for the travelling side.
Charlotte Mcleish and Amy Dufour were the would-be heroes for Maitland as they crossed twice, and Breanna Lacy found a valuable two points through one of her kicks. The 10-point haul wasn’t enough though, and Maitland’s season ended in round 16.
With the battle between Maitland and Kurri Kurri decided, the Blues Tag finals picture has finally been revealed ahead of the first weekend.
Central, who clinched the top spot with their bye weekend in round 16, now boasts a bye as the teams who finished between second and fifth scrap it out to keep their chances for a grand final appearance alive.
Souths, who downed Cessnock last weekend, finished in second and welcome inner-city rivals Wests to Townson Oval on Sunday morning in the qualifying final. Wests surged over Macquarie 72-8 in their final round of the season.
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In the crunch-time battle, the Bulldogs find themselves once again looking to the results at Maitland Sportsground. This time around, however, the Kurri Kurri outfit has their fate in their own hands as they meet Lakes at 9.40am on Saturday.
The Seagulls, who finished in fourth with 25 points, just missed a shot at the qualifying battle with their 10-10 draw, and will be eager to make amends on Saturday. The Bulldogs, on the other hand, are now buoyed by their miraculous qualification.
The victors of the elimination will face the losers of the qualifying final the following Sunday, while the winner of the high-bracket playoff match will contest the major semi-final with the Butcher Birds at Harker Oval the same day.
FINAL STANDINGS: Central (33), Souths (31), Wests (26), Lakes (25), Kurri (20), Maitland (19), Nelson Bay (14), Cessnock (8), Macquarie (4).