Premiers Wollongong Lions withstood an early blitz to qualify for the AFL South Coast grand final.
Their hold on the flag looked shaky when arch-rivals the Dogs piled on three goals in the opening exchanges at Artie Smith Oval.
But they steadied to finish 11.7 (73) to 7.5 (47) winners, booking their tickets to Saturday’s showdown with Kiama at North Dalton Park.
“They jumped us a bit,” Lions coach Ray Burgess said.
“Those three goals from clearances were a setback, but the guys just had to settled and get down to work.
“Getting one back before quarter-time helped, the boys didn’t panic.”
By half-time, the Lions trailed by just a point, on an at times wet and wild afternoon.
A year ago, at Nowra Showground, the last time the two teams had to travel south to play each other, the Lions prevailed by one point to win the 2016 premiership.
But the Lions live to fight another day, as Jake Hogarth was a standout in the forward line with three goals.
It is the first time the Bulldogs have missed the AFL South Coast grand final since 2009.
Instead, the Lions will play in their third grand final in as many years, having lost their first title showdown to the Dogs when they returned from AFL Sydney in 2015.
“It’s huge for the club,” Burgess said.
“There are 11 blokes who played (on Saturday), who didn’t play in last year’s grand final. So there’s a lot of blokes who are pretty keen to go out there and win one.”
Ben Green, Will Cook and Ken Ewen-Chappell are among those who were not part of the Lions premiership campaign last season.
Green was voted best on ground, while Jack Burgess and Dave Nolen were also among the Lions’ best.
Kiama haven’t lost since round three, the only time they’ve been beaten this season, when they went down by five points to the Lions.
Burgess admitted the Power would be hard to shut down in Saturday’s decider.
“They’re been the best team for most of the season,” he said. “We’ve had a pretty good luck at each other now, in the major semi it was close, but they had the best of it for most of the game.
“I don’t think there’s much we have to change, hopefully we can find our best next week.”
AFL SOUTH COAST
KIAMA v WOLLONGONG LIONS at North Dalton Park
Head-to-head: Lions 10.5 (65) d Kiama 9.6 (60), Kiama 6.9 (45) d Lions 5.3 (33), Kiama 12.5 (77) d Lions 9.7 (61), Kiama 7.15 (57) d Lions 8.5 (53).