On the back of a brilliant showing from halfback Josh Merritt, the Nyngan Tigers produced their best performance of the season on Sunday and downed Dubbo CYMS to reinforce their premiership credentials.
Merritt dominated the second half of the much-anticipated clash at Apex Oval in trademark fashion.
After his side went into the half-time break down by two, the livewire half kicked a perfect 40/20 in the first set after the break to set-up a second try for a rampaging Justin Carney before a magical chip and chase soon after resulted in a four-pointer for Darryl Cubby.
In the final quarter of the game, when a CYMS side celebrating its Indigenous round had got back within four, he beat the on-rushing CYMS defence to score and then his pinpoint cross-field kick on full-time resulted in a Clynton Edwards try which iced the 32-18 victory.
"It's just off the cuff, that sort of thing," Merritt said, having put his bag of tricks to use for the best part of a decade in Group 11.
"I enjoy doing it and it paid off today."
On a day where the top five was confirmed for the season, the premiership picture was made it to look as unclear as it has all year.
CYMS may have the minor premiership wrapped up but captain-coach Jarryn Powyer admitted his side was out-enthused by a hugely motivated Tigers side.
That resulted in just the second loss of the season for CYMS while Merritt said the Nyngan squad has no doubt it can go all the way now.
"We finally put two halves together for the first time this year and we can see what that did to the best side in the competition," Merritt said.
"We can't wait for finals time.
"We're pretty confident we can put everything together come finals. We believe in every single one that puts on this jersey."
The belief showed early on as the Tigers held off CYMS before scoring the day's first try when Dean Woods was put over from close range down the short side.
CYMS hit back through Billy Sing and Alex Bonham, the latter going himself and scoring after a fine left-foot step.
But Bonham had left his kicking boots at home and missed both relatively easy conversions, so Nynagn got back in front when Carney built up a head of steam from 20 out and powered across four minutes before the break.
The lead didn't last for long though, as Brian Perry spilled the ball on the first tackle from the ensuring kick-off and right on the bell the Fishies scored through centre Corey Cox to go into the sheds with a 12-10 lead.
From the first minute of the second half though, the game belonged to Merritt.
45 | TRY! Merritt magic!! Josh Merritt proving again he’s one of the best to watch in #Group11 when he’s in the mood. He chips perfectly and regathers before putting Darryl Cubby over. A Tigers blitz to start the second half. Cubby converts, lead is 22-12 at Apex Oval.— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) August 4, 2019
His 40/20 and then work in the lead-up to the Cubby try had the Tigers up by 10 within five minutes of the restart.
Merritt kept trying his hand and a kick out on the full was one of a handful of errors from the Tigers which allowed CYMS back into the contest.
Viliame Turuva ran back on the angle to score, just moments after the Fishies had been adamant Sing had got his second only to see referee Simon Hartas rule held-up.
At 22-18 the game was in the balance again, but that was as close as CYMS got.
Wade Kavanagh rushed off his line to shut down Merritt when the Tigers were in range with 17 minutes to go, but the halfback stepped past him on his way to scoring and the visitors held CYMS off from there, with Edwards try on full-time sending the Nyngan fans into raptures.
The #Group11 top five is set but final round will confirm exact make-up.— Nick Guthrie (@Nj_Guthrie) August 4, 2019
Parkes ended Macquarie's hopes today with a dominant 42-16 win while Wellington defeated Forbes 28-24 in a thriller.
Ladder: CYMS 22, Wellington 20, Nyngan 17, Forbes 15, Parkes 14, Macquarie 11, Narromine 5
The result will give CYMS captain-coach Powyer plenty to think about in the next two weeks his side has off.
The Fishies don't play in the final round due to the expulsion of Westside, who they were to meet, and then they have a bye in the first week of finals due to finishing on top.
"We didn't get a couple of defensive things right but in that first 40 our attitude was there and we were completing and we really put ourselves in a good spot to do a proper job," Powyer said.
"But unfortunately we were probably out-enthused in the second half and that's a credit to Nyngan.
"They came here and we knew they would, we were fully prepared but they were a bit too good today.
"That's the sort of game we wanted to come out and play. Obviously we didn't want to lose but there's a lot to work on.
"That bit of enthusiasm will help too and hopefully that comes at finals so we're looking forward to that now."
The downside for Nyngan was the loss of prop Perry to what looked like a serious arm injury after he and Gerald Mackay had provided plenty of go-forward from the bench.
The Fishies injury worries also continue to mount as winger Corey Drew failed to finish the first half and Alex Ronayne exited the game in the second stanza after a head knock.
- NYNGAN TIGERS 32 (Justin Carney 2, Dean Woods, Darryl Cubby, Josh Merritt, Clynton Edwards tries; Cubby 4 goals) defeated DUBBO CYMS 18 (Billy Sing, Alex Bonham, Corey Cox, Viliame Turuva tries; Cox goal)