BATHURST ST PAT'S have taken the top spot on the Group 10 premier league ladder with one round to go after beating the Orange Hawks 30-26 on Sunday.
St Pat's bounced back from a shaky start to their second half to frustrate a determined Hawks side, reduced to 12 men for the final eight minutes of the game.
The win ends the Hawks' nine-match winning streak and sees Pat's dethrone Mudgee from the top spot they have held since round five in May.
Even after witnessing one of the club's most important results this season, St Pat's coach Kurt Hancock did his best to keep his focus clear post-match.
"We've worked hard all year so that's a little reward they get, but it's only for this week," Hancock said of topping the table.
"We've still got to tidy things up if we're going to be any sort of show through the semi-finals. It was a scrappy win but I guess we know how to do that at the moment.
“To beat Hawks who have been the form side of comp is great but I still think they have a bit to offer. I think we're going to see them again some time in the finals."
St Pat's winger Adam Morton couldn't have asked for a better first touch of the ball in premier league, running 60 metres down the left wing to open the scores three minutes in.
Hawks went ahead 6-4 when Alofi Mataele found an overlap in the home team's left side defence.
John Hanscomb started the match in an unfamiliar role at hooker but his strong performance was rewarded with a try that got St Pat's back in front by two with 14 minutes gone.
Hawks allowed the lead to grow to 14-6 when three straight penalties from Orange let Dave Howard find the try line.
Arty Shead made sure the visitors kept in touch with a try from close range under the posts but Pat's went into half-time 20-12 up thanks to a Jake Bright try in the closing seconds of the half.
Hawks became the aggressors from the resumption, scoring two quick tries in the first seven minutes to level up the contest.
Jared Brodrick went in after an awkward bounce from a chip kick left the St Pat's defence red-faced. Tim Mortimer's try came off the back of a Hawks 40/20 just moments after.
After a scrappy period of play where both sides were struggling for momentum and tempers were starting to show, St Pat's soon found two quick tries through Hanscomb and Morton that would prove the difference.
Hawks looked set to respond with 10 minutes remaining and the score at 30-20 before the ball was thrown over the sideline just metres from the try line.
Jason Greenhalgh was then sin binned for dissent and it left Orange unable to find the two tries needed.
A try after the siren for Josefa Lasagavibau was little comfort for Hawks who had to cope with a feeling they had forgotten for some time - losing.
"I was very happy with our effort. Full credit to St Pat's. They're a good football team and strong across the park. That was the difference in the end. The bounce of the ball didn't go our way. If we don't let all those points in at the start then we don't have to go chasing them at the end," Orange captain-coach Mortimer said.
"By round five or six we were in the bottom two or three ... Just to be in the finals is a great effort after that. We've had a good run and now it's time to get our heads right for the finals. This might be a blessing in disguise."
BATHURST ST PAT'S 30 (Adam Morton 2, John Hanscomb 2, Dave Howard, Jake Bright tries; Garry Reilly 3 goals) def ORANGE HAWKS 26 (Alofi Mataele, Arty Shead, Jared Broderick, Tim Mortimer, Josefa Lasagavibau tries; Brock McGarity 3 goals).