And then there was four.
Although Centrals and Kinross face-off in the final clash of the Royal Hotel Cup's preliminary stage on Friday it means nothing, because the quartet of sides progressing to the knockout stage are locked in.
Orange City, the only unbeaten side remaining, topped pool A with three wins and a draw, edging out competition debutants St Pat's Old Boys, the only game the Saints dropped was to the powerhouse Warriors.
The cross-over semi-finals begin with Orange City's clash with Centennials on February 22, while the maroons will face St Pat's Old Boys the following week, before the decider on March 8.
Leading into those massive finals clashes the Central Western Daily sports desk has trawled through each sides' campaigns so far to provide you an in-depth guide to the Royal Hotel Cup semi-finals.
There’s actually not much to say about Orange City that hasn’t already been said in the past.
The Warriors are a perennial Twenty20 powerhouse and they’ve only missed the finals once since the competition’s change of format in 2012-13, including that year they’ve played in three of the six grand finals since too.
Considering that it's not a surprise to see them progress, nor is it surprising they've navigated their way through the group stage unbeaten.
After handing St Pat's Old Boys their first and only defeat the Warriors didn't get the chance to knock off Lithgow, with rain forcing that game into a draw.
But they still built plenty of momentum early in that, the Warriors were 1-63 after eight overs when the rain came, but can they ride that wave well enough to take down the powerhouse Bulls?
THE KEY PLAYER
In terms of the Royal Hotel Cup you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who’s stood taller in the clutch than ED MORRISH, the 2012-13 Carl Sharpe Medal winner.
In his six seasons playing in the Twenty20 tournament Morrish has taken 29 wickets at 17.34 runs apiece, but that record transforms from good to somewhat remarkable when you only consider finals cricket.
Having played in six finals games during that period, including three grand finals, Morrish has taken eight wickets at a tick over 13 apiece, and twice decimated teams’ top orders on the biggest stage.
In 2012-13’s big dance he took two wickets in his first over, the second of CYMS’ chase, as his side defended 104 and then did something similar in the 2016-17 decider against Lithgow.
Again taking two wickets in his first over, also the first of Lithgow’s chase, Morrish removed danger men Ben Sheehan and Ryan Gurney without scoring to leave the Lightning reeling at 2-2, although they recovered to win.
He picked up a five-wicket haul in his side’s biggest game of the summer too, against St Pat’s Old Boys, leading the Warriors’ 12-run win.
Considering he’s Orange City’s skipper now his tactical nous will play a big role in how they fare come finals time too, but with the new ball we’re certain he’ll stand up again.
We’re inclined to think he must’ve run over someone’s dog at some stage, because it’s hard to fathom how he hasn’t been in the Central West Wranglers’ squad for the past couple of years.
Their form through the preliminary stages demands they be considered favourites to go on and claim the title, not just win their semi-final.
But we're not so sure, gut instinct says they'll battle against a Bulls side boasting the reigning, joint MVPs in Mick Curtale and Ryan Gurney along with the likes of Josh Toole.
In fact, we're predicting the Warriors to BOW OUT IN THE SEMI-FINALS.
ST PAT’S OLD BOYS
A bit of a bolt from the blue, quite literally considering their strip, St Pat’s Old Boys have taken to the Royal Hotel Cup like a duck to water and picked up three victories from their four pool games to guarantee a semi-final berth.
Accounted for Centrals and Kinross easily and absolutely hammered last year's runners-up and the 2016-17 champions in Lithgow after that, before stumbling in their final preliminary clash with Orange City.
Although they boast a powerhouse side with a number of Central West Wranglers representatives, as a whole they don’t have the Twenty20 experience of some of their finals-bound rivals and that did show in their loss to the Warriors, when they came up short after rocketing into the box seat early in their chase.
They’ve been tested twice and they passed one of those with flying colours while failing the other, so it’s somewhat tough to gauge how they’ll fare as the stage gets bigger.
THE KEY PLAYER
Rarely does a victory or defeat genuinely come down to one player, but having said that BEN MITCHELL has the potential to lead St Pat’s Old Boys to the 2018-19 title virtually on his own.
As it stands his teammate Nic Broes is in the box seat to claim the Carl Sharpe Medal but Mitchell’s not far behind him and, in this desk’s humble opinion, is the most talented young player in Western Zone.
He’s blasted 125 runs at 41.7, is a handy seam option and played the shot of the tournament so far against Orange City too, magnificently lifting Ed Morrish straight back over his head for a massive maximum.
That six helped Mitchell cruise to an effortless 38, at that point the Saints were 3-62 from six overs and needed less than five-an-over to knock off the Warriors and remain unbeaten.
But then he got out, moving across his stumps he gloved a pretty harmless Ed Morrish long hop to short fine leg, a pretty soft dismissal at a crucial time really.
By no means are we suggesting the defeat was his fault but it did spark a collapse to the tune of 4-4 the Saints never recovered from as they fell 12 short, so if nothing else it’s a good lesson in controlling a chase for him.
They may be in their first Royal Hotel Cup campaign since the competition changed to a Twenty20 tournament, but the Saints have well and truly proved themselves contenders.
As you've read we're inclined to think their title chances hinge somewhat on Mitchell's influence but they do have plenty of stars around him, like Broes, marquee player Jameel Qureshi and skipper Adam Ryan, so it won't all fall on the young man's shoulders.
Taking down Cavaliers will be no easy feat, but we get the feeling they will to earn a grand final berth, but we're predicting them to FALL AT THE FINAL HURDLE.
Dominant is the only real way to describe Cavaliers in this summer’s Royal Hotel Cup so far, and even though they stumbled in their final preliminary game against Bathurst City they already had top spot in pool B wrapped up.
They were forced to play the reigning champions in Centennials Bulls and perennial contenders CYMS as well in the group stage and they accounted for both easily, in fact they weren't really tested.
While there's no doubting their contender status there’s sure to be some who’d suggest the ease of those victories could be a negative thing leading into bigger games against in-form teams, maybe even that it could breed complacency.
There’s merit in that argument as well but there’s nothing quite like the momentum and unwavering confidence a team takes from commanding, consecutive victories and the maroons earned plenty of that early in the competition.
We suggest they may have put that loss to Redbacks out of their minds.
THE KEY PLAYER
The easy option to take here is to highlight Josh Doherty, Matt Corben or even Ryan Kurtz, three guys who have already contributed heavily to the maroons’ campaign.
We’re going the other way and nominating someone who hasn't reached his otherwise lofty heights in this competition in left-arm tweaker MITCH BLACK.
He's taken five wickets in the Royal Hotel Cup at 16.8 which certainly aren't bad numbers, but he hasn't really made his presence felt in the shortest format the way he has elsewhere.
He took an eight-wicket haul for Orange and then led the Bluebaggers to victory twice in their Mitchell Cricket Council Twenty20 Cup title win, and he's also Orange's top grade's leading wicket-taker with 28 at a ridiculous 6.75.
That’s why we’ve picked him, for what he’s capable of doing with the ball, and he's handy with the bat too.
Cavaliers have won easily for the most part without Black imposing himself too heavily, so imagine how dominant the maroons could be if he fires and the others do too.
That's still an if, though.
Before their last preliminary clash against Bathurst City we'd have tipped Cavaliers to win the competition and do it easily, and while they've probably cast that aside for us it did show a few of the maroons' frailties.
Every skipper will say they don't care who they play at any given point in the competition, but we get the feeling Cavaliers would've preferred a semi-final against Orange City, rather than the somewhat-unknown Saints.
As you've just read a touch earlier, gut instinct tells us they may fall to St Pat's Old Boys to be ELIMINATED IN THE PENULTIMATE GAME.
Based on their first two games, we'd all but ruled them out.
Based on their next two, they've roared back into our title calculations, particularly their last performance.
In their final game of the pool stages Centennials produced the Royal Hotel Cup's second-largest successful chase to down Bathurst City, with Mick Curtale and Josh Toole starring as they ran down 162 with five wickets to spare.
That's the Bulls side we remember from last summer, and that's the Bulls side we think will turn out at Wade Park from now on in too.
THE KEY PLAYER
Throw a dart at Centennials side, seriously.
They've got the most powerful line-up in the competition easily so there's no shortage of stars who could produce on the big stage, and have before.
For instance Ryan Gurney and Mick Curtale shared last year's Carl Sharpe Medal and the former won it the season before that too when he inspired Lithgow's title win. Dallas Tilley has come across from the Lightning too and he's played a pivotal role.
Our key player, and it might be somewhat expected, is JOSH TOOLE though.
Played as Orange City's marquee before Centennials entered the competition and dominated, and is the most damaging bat in the competition when he gets going.
He did just that in the last game and although that 44-ball 57 was his first knock above 20 this summer, he's a big game player and always has been.
Watch him go ballistic in the finals, but he's also one of the smartest leaders around and is absolutely electric in the field, so that influence may not be restricted to his exploits with the willow.
They may have started slowly but they proved the old saying that 'form is temporary and class is permanent' with their last two group stage victories.
Simply, they're too powerful a side for us to do anything but predict they'll win their semi-final against Orange City and then the grand final too, to SECURE A SECOND CONSECUTIVE TITLE WIN.
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