WANDERERS steamrolled an out-of-sorts Maitland 35-19 at No.2 Sportsground in the Newcastle and Hunter Rugby Union qualifying semi-final on Saturday to set up a date with fierce rivals Hamilton for the first spot in the grand final.
The Two Blues scored six tries but it was their defence and aggression at the breakdown which was the difference.
Inspirational skipper Ben Ham led a Wanderers pack that lifted a gear in intensity and pace.
Prop Alex Reid was outstanding and continually bent the defensive line with strong carries. Fellow bookend Blair Rush and breakaway Piers Morrell also got the Two Blues on the front.
After a shaky start, the Two Blues scrum finished on top.
But in the end, the difference was defence.
With Wanderers ahead 15-7 and Dan Kevill in the sinbin, Wanderers defended their own line for 10 minutes.
Twice they held Maitland up over the line, they stole a lineout, drove Chris Martin into touch and had bodies everywhere.
Pumped. The Two Blues struck two minutes into the second half through Sinclair George, after a 40-metre burst from Chase Hicks, to extend the gap to 22-7.
The Blacks then lost halfback Max Stafford and lock Marcus Christensen to the bin for professional fouls.
The home side made them pay. Reid produced a miraculous behind-the-back pass for Nimi Qio to stroll over and then Luke Simmons latched on to his second intercept and sent Tim Marsh on an 80-metre sprint to the tryline.
Maitland had the bye in the final round and, with the first week of the finals being postponed, they hadn't played for three weeks and it showed.
Captain Carl Manu tried to the lift them, Nick Davidson was also strong and Lachlan Bradford threatened but they lacked sharpness and a tough edge.
Maitland will now meet the winner of Sunday's elimination semi-final between Merewether and Lake Macquarie.
Wanderers will be without Kevill for the showdown with Hamilton after he picked up his third yellow card for a high shot on Travis Brooke, who stooped low to pick up a bouncing ball.