ORANGE Hawks continued their winning run over Bathurst Panthers this year by emerging victorious in the most important contest between the teams this season - Sunday's Peter McDonald Premiership semi-final at Wade Park.
Having beaten the Panthers 16-12 on two separate occasions this year the Hawks saved their biggest win over the Bathurst men for when the pressure was at its greatest, running out 36-20 victors on home turf.
It was a high quality first half of football from both teams as Hawks entered the sheds up 14-10, with the game well balanced and full of attacking highlights for each side.
But in the second half Hawks maintained their standard on both ends of the ball while cracks began to show in the Panthers' defence and more errors plagued the Bathurst men.
The end result of that was Hawks outscoring the Panthers four tries to two in the second term and booking their ticket to face Mudgee Dragons in next weekend's preliminary final.
It leaves the Hawks one win away from making their first appearance in a top grade grand final since 2013.
Hawks lock Matt Boss completed his brace by sealing the Hawks' victory in the 76th minute and was thrilled to see the team playing the game out to the final seconds.
"It was a weird old game. You go through patches where you feel like you've got all the momentum and then it'd swing and you'd find yourself holding on for dear life," he said.
"We're really happy with that. Our second halves this year have been really disappointing so to play like the way we did was really pleasing."
Boss said it was nice to come away with a brace but was more excited to see teammate Harry Gersbach pick up his first try of the season at a crucial time of the year.
"One of our boys got off the nudie, so that's great for him. He'll be very happy about it. He's been asking for it all year," he said.
"I'm just really happy with the win, I don't care about my tries. We've got a big week coming up now and we have a great chance to reach the grand final, which is really exciting.
"It was a big effort from everyone today. We're super keen to get over to Mudgee and give it a red hot crack."
The loss marks the second successive season that Panthers have found themselves eliminated after the second week of PMP finals.
Panthers player-coach Jake Betts labelled it as one of his team's weakest - and indeed worst-timed - performances over recent weeks.
"They're a good side. They got in front and ground it out and continued to do the little things right," he said.
"We probably saved one of our worst games over the last six weeks for today. We weren't at our best and we gave this one away."
Jed Betts struck first for the Panthers when he crossed for a try in the fourth minute through the centre of the park.
Panthers continued to apply more pressure over the opening 10 minutes but Hawks began to relieve some of that when they found touch on a goal line drop out.
Hawks brought the ball up the other end and put Boss over for his first try, levelling things at 6-all after Ryan Manning's conversion.
Joseph Coady had the Hawks crowd on their feet with his intercept, running out of his own territory and coming up just metres short of a try.
Panthers Nick Tilburg slowed down Coady's play-the-ball too long for the referee's liking and was sent to the sin bin for his professional foul.
Coady's opposite number Jesse Limon was able to diffuse the situation with an intercept of his own.
Hawks halfback Scott Rosser pounced on an error off a bomb to score while the Panthers were still down a player.
A line break from Panthers centre Dillion Adrole was then run in for a try on the next tackle by Joey Bugg to make it 12-10 to the Orange men.
A penalty goal to Ryan Manning after the siren narrowly extended the lead.
Things looked promising for Panthers when Tieryn Toomey-White scored early in the second half but a try to Manning, assisted by a Jye Barrow offload, sparked a noticeable drop-off from the Bathurst squad.
Gersbech muscled his way over for a try, and when Jed Betts briefly gave the Panthers hope with his second try of the day it was quickly nullified by a four-pointer to Hawks' Ben French.
The Hawks winger capitalised on a great scoring opportunity following a strong run into Panthers territory by centre Lachie Lawson.
Panthers' last great scoring chance came seven minutes out from full-time when an exciting series of offloads near the Orange try line ended with a knock on.
Boss then sealed the deal with his second try, extending the Hawks' finals run for at least one more week.
ORANGE HAWKS 36 (Matt Boss 2, Scott Rosser, Ryan Manning, Harry Gersbach, Ben French tries; Manning 5 conversions; Manning penalty goal) defeated BATHURST PANTHERS 20 (Jed Betts 2, Joey Bugg, Tieryn Toomey-White tries; Haydn Edwards 2 conversions)