GUNNEDAH fought off a determined West Lions to secure a vital second spot on the Group 4 Cup ladder at Kitchener Park on Saturday.
The Bulldogs won 26-22 and will now play unbeaten North Tamworth Bears in September 7’s major semifinal at Jack Woolaston Oval, North Tamworth.
They will also play the Bears in a “dress rehearsal” final round at Kitchener Park, Gunnedah this Saturday.
The Shane Rampling-coached Bulldogs converted a 10-6 half time into their four-point win in what was a physical contest.
“The wet weather didn’t help and made for a few mistakes,” Rampling said.
“It also brought the sides closer together but we were able to grind out a win.”
Rampling said his side was able to cancel out danger man Chris Hunt too.
“He was only able to make about one break. We did miss a few one-on-one tackles though and that led to a couple of tries. Dylan Lake also scored a couple of good tries for them.
“We talked about manning up on him but the little winger is quick. He scored one from dummy half, running about 50m.
“So they(West) kept us honest.”
Losing winger Cameron Lewington to injury also forced a reshuffle for the Bulldogs with the versatile Tyler Fleming out on the wing in another Mr Fixit role.
“DJ Smith was outstanding for us again,” Rampling said. “He scored a freak try, a kick and chase. “You can’t coach that, it’s natural ability and instinct.
“He also set up a try for his brother (Jie). That came from a scrum and was a turning point, it had been pretty tight until then.
Rampling was “very happy” with his pack too.
“They laid the platform,” he said.
“Andrew Cameron (secondrower) had a massive game for us.
“I also thought Robbie Briggs did well at halfback.
“It was his second game in first grade and he gained a lot of confidence from that. His defence was very solid too.
“And Oli Neader also came off the bench and made inroads at hooker.”