The Parramatta Eels live on in 2021 after outlasting the Newcastle Knights 28-20 in an elimination final marred by controversy.
A decision to award youngster Will Penisini a penalty try in the dying minutes after a clash with Enari Tuala gave the Eels the all-important buffer, much to the fury of Knights fans.
Brad Arthur’s men take on the suddenly shaky Penrith Panthers in next week’s semi-final, while the Knights’ season is over.
Often criticised for his poor run of results in big games, Eels star Mitchell Moses produced telling moments either side of halftime to put the Eels on top, before he held his nerve late.
The favourites looked to have the match won at 22-10 with 30 minutes to play, before the Knights hit back with two tries in six minutes to draw within two points.
Both came off the back of crucial plays, the first from an unsuccessful Will Smith charge down and the second after the bunker spotted a Paulo high shot.
And with a terrible finals record of one win from six attempts since 2017 and after a late-season fade this year, the Eels would have been forgiven for fearing the worst.
But unlike previous seasons, their defence held firm before late drama helped them finish the job with a Will Penisini penalty try.
After an ugly Clint Gutherson grubber kick dribbled along the ground, Penisini was taken out from behind by Enarti Tuala in the chase.
The play went up as no try, but the bunker ruled Kalyn Ponga had overran the ball and Penisini would have got to it first and awarded a penalty try, and killing off a Knights comeback.
Earlier, the Eels had shown plenty of signs of nerves.
Gutherson put the opening kick-off out on the full and Newcastle had a 4-0 lead when a Kalyn Ponga cut-out ball hit Tuala on the chest.
Both sides traded tries for Newcastle to lead 10-6 before Moses stood up, spotting a gap and going 40 metres to score.
From the next set, Paulo and Nathan Brown put him on the front foot, claiming a quick play-the-ball before Will Penisini skipped through and flicked for Blake Ferguson to score.
Moses made his mark once more to start the second half, putting on a lofted cut-out ball for Ferguson to run onto and score.
The 12-point lead ultimately proved enough, ending the Knights season in the first week of the finals for a second straight year and keeping the Eels’ campaign alive.
However, the win could come at a cost, with Junior Paulo, Marata Niukore and Waqa Blake all put on report for dangerous tackles.