AS the whistle sounded for half-time, Belmont’s players looked dejected.
Six sets had been played in the first stanza of the Newcastle Dodgeball League opening semi-final, and although all had been close affairs, Waratah had shown their pedigree as they marched to a 5-1 lead.
The difference was notable, as the ‘Tahs laughed and prepared for the second half, while Belmont’s faces turned to stone as they steeled themselves for another trying half.
In the end, it was Belmont’s players cheering the final whistle, as five straight sets for the third-seed club saw them punch their ticket to the league’s greatest decider, and move just 45 minutes away from being crowned champions after their miraculous final four comeback.
Waratah opened strong off the back of fast attacks from Jakub Lunarzewski and Andrew De Souza, but lacked a recovery option at the end of long sets with both Georgia Graham and Eva Bailey – deep court catchers the ‘Tahs have relied on for seasons – ruled out of the key match.
Molly Walker and Luke Ellis stepped up in their place for catches, but it wasn’t enough to keep the ‘Tahs in control in the second half, as Nic Price and Jaimi Bubb combined with full forward Liam Janczuk to collect a swathe of eliminations.
The return of Janczuk, alongside key catcher Gorgia Watkins, proved crucial in the second half, especially as Watkins and Maddie Jordan collected a set-turning catch each in the second half to shut out Waratah, and eventually claim the one-set victory.
In the other semi-final, Hamilton faced off against Raymond Terrace in a repeat of season nine’s final four clash for both teams.
Last time the two squads squared off in an elimination match Hamilton sent the Terrace packing in a 14-1 rout that would eventually result in the former team’s fourth title in as many seasons.
This time around, although the same team progressed, there were cracks in Hamilton’s facade as they rallied late to score a 9-5 win and claim the second position in the grand final.
The match was decided in the second half however, as both team’s broke at the half-whistle with Hamilton leading by just a single set, 5-4.
The fast-paced match slowed in the second half, with only five sets played after a blistering nine-set first half had set the tempo at a gear not seen in the Dodgeball League in season ten, but as Hamilton approached a return to the final and their chance to defend the crown, it was their control that saw them through.
The 4-1 second half, punctuated by meticulous counter-attacks from the season ten premiers, was a return to the style of old for the club, with Harry Gibson, and Thomas McCallum leading the forward assault.
While Gibson and McCallum opened Raymond Terrace’s forward line, Doug Byrne, Alexander McIntyre and Lachlan Craig gave no ground on the flanks, and key catches from Joseph Maynard late on in the match-up turned the tide for the defending champions.
Hamilton will now face Belmont in the NDL grand final next Thursday evening at Oakdale Arena, in a match-up between old and new.
FINALS: Hamilton and Belmont set up grand final rematch (9/11)
RD14: Waratah down Belmont in heated one-set thriller (2/11)
RD13: Shortland oust Hamilton from first with one to go (26/10)
RD12: Belmont upset Hamilton to blow first place race open (19/10)
RD11: Shortland take second after thriller against Belmont (12/10/18)
RD10: Waratah tumble into fourth place after slow start (5/10/18)
RD9: Top four teams hold off finals-hopefuls (28/09/18)
RD8: Hamilton claim first as league celebrates Ladies Day (21/09/18)
RD7: Shortland and Kotara clash goes down to the wire (14/09/18)
RD6: Waratah keep close on Hamilton's heels (07/09/18)
RD5: Hamilton prevail in grand final rematch (30/08/18)
RD4: Belmont tumble into ladder mix with defeat (24/08/18)
RD3: Waratah cuts Shortland's undefeated streak short (17/08/18)
RD2: Shortland break Terrace to continue strong start (10/08/18)
RD1: Waratah open account against long-standing rivals (03/08/18)
PRESEASON: Season 11's draw & key fixtures revealed (19/07/18)
PRESEASON: Registrations now open for NDL Season 11. (13/07/18)
GF: Hamilton extend dynasty with fifth championship (06/07/18)
SF: Belmont punch ticket to season decider with comeback (29/06/18)
QF: Raymond Terrace scores maiden finals victory (22/06/18)
RD15: Waratah confirm second place, first week bye (15/06/18)
RD14: Waratah steady the ship with key three-set win (08/06/18)
RD13: Belmont ensures the Waratah slide continues (01/06/18)
RD12: Cooks Hill and Belmont remain level with draw (25/05/18)
RD11: Waratah lose sight of first place after defeat (18/05/18)
RD10: Raymond Terrace shock Cookers in sudden death (11/05/18)
RD9: Cookers drop 'Tahs to second with 6-5 slug-fest (04/05/18)
RD8: Hamilton take revenge in Battle of Oakdale (27/04/18)
RD7: Bailey best on field as 'Tahs in cruise-control (20/04/18)
RD6: Waratah break three-year hoodoo over old rivals (13/04/18)
RD5: Hamilton reclaim first place with 13-0 masterclass (06/04/18)
RD4: League's closest round sees 'Tahs take top spot (23/03/18)
RD3: Cooks Hill record first point with 5-5 draw (16/03/18)
RD2: Sudden-death deciders see Hamilton pip Belmont (09/03/18)
RD1: Waratah-Hamilton classic ends in 6-all draw (02/03/18)