COLLEGIANS are the real deal in 2019. There can be no other conclusion after they outlasted defending premiers Wests 26-16 at Parrish Park on Saturday.
In a match that looked every bit the finals preview, the scores were locked three times before the Dogs finally found a go-ahead try and penalty goal to kick away late.
It wasn't enough to leapfrog Wests into top spot on the ladder on for and against but Collies are no doubt the form team of the competition with three rounds to play.
It continues an upward trajectory that's seen them notch seven wins from their last seven outings to get within reach of the minor premiership.
Having shown a tendency of fading out of the big games, coach Nathan Fien was pleased to see his side find another gear down the stretch.
"We always knew we were there or thereabouts but we just weren't able to finish games off or put sides away," Fien said.
"We were 10-all at halftime again and to come out and do what we did in the second half was very pleasing.
"Wests are a side that throws so much at you and they were getting us early. We had to make a few adjustments at halftime but just the buy-in from the boys was the most pleasing thing.
"You can feel that it actually means something to the boys and that can make for a very dangerous footy team come the big games at the end of the year."
The win avenged a one-point loss to the Devils in round four and comes a month after they also got one back on Thirroul after dropping their first clash at Gibson Park in round one.
It's an impressive run but Fien doesn't expect it to amount to a finals edge.
"It's great to show we can beat those sides but, at the same time, they got us in round one and we were able to lift ourselves off the canvas and get two really good wins," Fien said.
"It'll be the same for them, they're going to be coming again and we're not getting ahead of ourselves by any stretch. Those sides are going to lift another gear.
"We've just got to be ready come finals time and we've still got to do a job against some good sides that are fighting for fourth spot."
The scores were locked at 10 apiece after a quality first 40 minutes from both sides, with Mitch Barbuto and Tony Pellow crossing for the hosts.
Jiye Ellis and Saxon Onur grabbed four pointers for the Dogs who led 16-10 after Blake Phillips crossed two minutes into the second stanza.
The Devils against found a response through Joseph Dickson but it was Alec Reid's 57th minute try that ultimately proved the match-winner, with Jack Cross converting and adding two penalty goals in the home stretch to seal the win.
Devils coach Pete McLeod was left frustrated by momentary lapses that have plagued his side through the middle part of the season.
"We've been sitting first on the ladder but we haven't been playing that brand of footy," McLeod said.
"I thought we took some steps forward in the first half, I think it was as good a game of footy as both teams have played this year, but we weren't good enough in the end.
"We had some opportunities there but we didn't execute and they executed whenever they got theirs.
"In the middle part of the second half we just went away from building pressure and they were good enough to score a couple of tries.
"There were just some big plays we didn't win and they did. Credit to them, I think they deserved their win.
"We've got a week off now then we've got three games leading into the semis so we'll rebuild in that and be there swinging."
Saturday's other two matches saw identical scorelines, with Thirroul and Helensburgh grabbing 38-14 wins over Dapto and Corrimal respectively.
It leaves the Tigers, Canaries and Cougars all level on eight points in fourth spot. Thirroul and Corrimal will be the only sides in action in next weekend's wet weather round.