The Taralga Tigers have ended their shock two-match losing streak with a do-or-die win over the Yass Rams in the first final of 2021.
After consecutive losses to the Crookwell Dogs and Yass in the span of three days (the former of which was a mid-week catchup game for a cancelled round), the pressure was on the Tigers to rebound against the team who had bested them just a week earlier.
Fortunately, as Taralga finished first on the Monaro section of the ladder, they had the advantage of a home final.
A strong crowd gathered to back the Tigers at the Taralga Showground, which spurred the team to a 26-21 win over the Rams.
It was far from smooth sailing, however, as the vastly-improved Yass outfit refused to back down at any point in the game.
"They've really stepped up this year and come at us," Tigers coach Will Hedley said.
"They were determined last week, when we'd had two matches in three days. They came at us hard, but it's good to get a win today."
The star of the day for Taralga was Nicholas Bennett, who scored one try, two conversions, and four penalty goals.
Bennett did not miss a single opportunity to score as kicker, and his contribution was crucial as the Tigers took a kicking-heavy approach to overcome Yass's stolid defence.
"Nick's going good, he hasn't missed too many all season. It's real handy to have," Hedley said.
Though Taralga was never in any real danger of missing out on finals through their late-season defeats, it would not have been the first side to allow a dip in confidence to derail its finals campaign.
Hedley, however, was sure his team would find their form on the big stage, and attributed the losses to momentary complacency.
"We knew we have the side to win," he said.
"For the last few weeks, our mindset was that it didn't matter if we won or lost, we were cemented in our spot. The boys probably took it a bit easy and didn't quite have the motivation to win.
"But they turned up today when needed."
The Tigers will now play a semi-final against the Jindabyne Bushpigs next weekend. Once again, Taralga will have the home ground advantage, but will also have to overcome arguably the physically largest team in the competition.
The Bushpigs, who finished just behind Taralga on the ladder, claimed a gritty 17-0 win over the underrated Braidwood Redbacks yesterday, and are currently 1-1 in matches against the Tigers this year.
The semi-final between Taralga and Jindabyne will take place on Saturday, August 14, from 2.30pm at the Taralga Showground.
Did you know the Goulburn Post is now offering breaking news alerts and a weekly email newsletter? Keep up-to-date with all the local news: sign up here.
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.