WHILE Bathurst Bulldogs and Orange Emus were both assured a spot in this year's Blowes Clothing Cup third grade grand final before even lacing their boots up for Saturday's major semi-final, there was no lack of desire at Ashwood Park.
Bulldogs won the match 13-10 to make it four consecutive wins over Emus in 2019, but the greens threw everything at their rivals as they tried to produce an upset a fortnight out from the decider.
After Emus centre Phil Johnston burst through Bulldogs' defence with a tick over 10 minutes left on the clock to get his side within three of the lead, he urged his team-mates to lift further in search of a win.
Gathered together in the in-goal area as they waited for the conversion attempt - it missed - Bulldogs were just as vocal as they pumped each other up for the final minutes.
Emus came again, but Bulldogs held on. In the end two penalty goals from the boot of Cameron Sinclair in the blustery conditions made the difference.
"Emus had a few experienced heads come on and just settled things down, brought a bit of composure, we sort of got away from what we aimed to do," Bulldogs captain Dane Fitzpatrick said.
"We were pushing passes, gave away a few silly penalties and dropped ball, but we'll be better for the run.
"It's a bit disappointing that there are only two teams in the comp, but that's how it goes."
As Fitzpatrick indicated, Emus and Bulldogs are the only teams in the third grade competition - though Cowra did manage to muster a side for some of its home fixtures.
But Bulldogs were still keen to win the semi-final in front of their home crowd.
They opened scoring after four minutes when an angled run saw Ben Hagney barge his way over, Bulldogs then driving back down field after the kick-off and earning a penalty. Sinclair guided it through to make it 10-0.
Sinclair had two more penalty attempts waved away, so when Nick Granger crossed from Emus six out from the break it was 10-5.
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Sinclair added another penalty goal eight minutes into the second half to push that buffer out.
However, the final 20 minutes of the match saw Emus rally and come at the minor premiers.
After coming off the bench for Emus, Sam Wasil got within inches of the line.
Even after Emus lost a player to a yellow card they continued to press and when Johnson burst through it reignited the greens' hopes of an upset.
While Johnson came close to a double as he probed down the left side, Bulldogs held on in defence to remain undefeated heading into the grand final.
Still, Emus captain Mark Grivas said his side will draw plenty of positives from Saturday's performance.
"I guess it was a good hit out out, like it always is against Bulldogs. We've played them three times already this year, we are yet to get the wood over them, but to only go down by three and get them two tries to one was a big step forward for us," he said.
"Hopefully we can just improve that little bit more and get over them in the GF.
"I think just little bit more cohesion is what we need, that lack of game time is making it hard. But we are starting to get a few boys now to training and hopefully we'll have a couple more sessions before the grand final and can get things going a little smoother."
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Like Fitzpatrick, Grivas said it is disappointing that just two clubs were able to field third grade teams for this year's finals series.
But he is hoping that 2020 will see more contenders.
"It's a bit disappointing that some of these other clubs aren't fielding third grade, but credit to Bathurst and to Emus at a board level for supporting and pushing the third grade competition and keeping it going," he said.
"It was good to see Cowra play a few games this year and hopefully we'll get a bit more of a resurgence next year with more."