The Mudgee Dragons are the first team to book their spot in the 2023 Peter McDonald Premiership grand final after a come-from-behind win over Orange Hawks on Saturday.
The Dragons trailed for most of the preliminary final at Glen Willow Stadium but managed to fight back in the final 10 minutes to clinch a 30-20 win.
It was only at this point last season when the Dragons were knocked out of the competition by Dubbo CYMS, a hurdle captain Jack Beasley said was nice to overcome.
"It hurt a lot last year because we knew we could have gone a lot further but we kind of messed up," he said.
"We've gone one further now and I think we can do it."
Now set to play either Dubbo CYMS or Parkes in the grand final, Mudgee playmaker Hayden Carpenter believes the Dragons still have a lot of improvement left in them.
"It was difficult, we did it the hard way for sure," he said.
It was Carpenter's halves partner Pacey Stockton who got the scoring under way, crossing over inside the first 10 minutes to give the home crowd a boost.
But Hawks hooker Alex Prout hit back, burrowing his way over.
Hawks fullback Ryan Manning easily converted Prout's try before slotting a penalty goal to give Orange the lead.
Just before half time, Lleyton Lothian found himself wide open on the left wing to score for Mudgee and put the Dragons back in front.
However, another Manning penalty goal after the half time siren locked the scores up at 10-all.
Coming out of the break, things couldn't have started better for the Hawks as Ben Blimka scored untouched after some poor Mudgee defence.
The heat started to take a toll on both forward packs but the Dragons key men would make the most of it.
First, Carpenter set up Joshwa Wilson-Tuckey to score before putting Hudson Brown through a hole as all of a sudden Mudgee led 18-16.
After not seeing too much attacking ball in the first 40 minutes, Carpenter said he felt his side just got things right.
"Maybe we just decided to run a bit harder and tackle a bit harder," he said.
"We just got our little things right, at the start of the game we played catch-up footy and forced things when we didn't need to."
The passionate travelling Hawks fans were brought to their feet when Ben French scored with just 17 minutes remaining, giving the away side back the lead.
Making their way back up the field, Jayden Brown crossed next to the posts to score with just under 10 minutes on the clock.
Lothian's successful conversion gave the Dragons a 24-20 lead but Jack Littlejohn would break Orange hearts on full time as he crossed for a well-deserved try.
While Mudgee celebrated their win with the home crowd, the Hawks players and support staff were huddled up still on the field.
Just a handful of points away from a grand final spot, Hawks coach Shane Rodney believes his side will be better off after losing the match.
"The boys are hurting, they understand that they were very close," he said.
"Mudgee are a good team and they were probably a little bit better than us at crucial times.
"Our guys, I just told them to hold their heads up high because they have had a good year and they'll learn from it.
"We will try and keep the group together, they are a really good group of young men but know they know what it's like to be so close.