Ben Coutts almost watched his grand final hopes go up in smoke on Saturday, but the Wests journeyman prop will get a chance to win a premiership 19 years in the making.
Wests will have a chance to win their first premiership in 12 years after beating the Tuggeranong Vikings 23-16 in a thrilling and controversial preliminary final at Viking Park.
Coutts was one of two Wests players sin-binned just 30 seconds apart in the first half while the Vikings had a potential score-levelling try denied in the final two minutes because of a lineout infringement.
In the end Wests held on for a heart-stopping win and will play the undefeated Royals in the grand final, while Tuggeranong will be missing from the season-decider for the first time in almost a decade.
Tuggeranong has won six of the past seven premierships and hasn't missed a grand final since 2008. The Vikings have missed just three Canberra premier division grand finals since 1993.
Coutts, 37, started his Wests career in 1998 before going on a worldwide journey to Wales, England, France, New Zealand and the Queensland Reds.
He eventually landed back at Wests, but the tighthead prop is missing the one trophy he craves the most.
Wests will be aiming to break at 12 year premiership drought in what looms as a massive moment for veteran Coutts, who spearheaded a dominant scrum.
But it almost ended in tears when Bruce Kaino was sent to the sin bin and Coutts followed him less than a minute later to leave Wests with just 13 men in the first half.
"The first final I ever lost was the first one I made with Wests, I really want to turn it around," Coutts said.
"Getting a grand final with Wests is the one thing I really want. You get to a point where you don't hide your age, I'm 37 and I'm proud of that.
"Every year I keep finding a reason to keep going around again. I think my goal is 20 years of first grade which is next year, then we'll see from there."
The Wests front row destroyed the defending premier Vikings, with Coutts, TP Luteru and skipper Harry Lloyd making a mess of the Tuggeranong pack.
That laid the platform for Wests to secure their first grand final berth in five years and they'll be trying to breakthrough for their first title since 2005 when coach Craig Robberds was still playing.
It's a remarkable turnaround after Wests missed the finals last year and won just three games.
"I thought we bombed it when we got down to 13 players, but that shows how far we've come this year," Robberds said.
In a brutal contest, Brumby Ben Hyne was knocked out, Rob Valentini copped a head knock and Jordan Jackson-Hope injured his ankle.
Nick Jooste slotted two crucial penalties for Wests to cut the margin to four points at half-time after trailing 10-0.
Wests then scored the first two tries of the second half Junior Luteru appeared to seal the result with another before Vikings lock Darcy Swain crossed with just two minutes left.
But the try was disallowed because the lineout didn't go the required five metres and Wests held on.
"I thought [Swain's try] looked OK ... but that was gutsy. We've only got four players left from last year, there was a lot of guts and pride in that performance," said Tuggeranong coach Tim Sampson.
AT A GLANCE
John I Dent Cup preliminary final: WESTS 23 (A Allen, C Ashmore, J Luteru tries; N Jooste 2 penalties, conversion) bt TUGGERANONG VIKINGS 16 (M Ravouvou try; R Lonergan 3 penalties, conversion) at Viking Park on Saturday.
Second grade: Queanbeyan Whites 40 bt Royals 27.
Colts: Queanbeyan Whites 34 bt Tuggeranong Vikings 26.
Women: Royals 33 bt Uni-Norths Owls 29.
First grade: Tuggeranong Vikings 38 bt ADFA 28.
Second grade: Queanbeyan Whites 19 bt RMC 18.
Premier divison: First grade: Royals v Wests; Second grade: Tuggeranong Vikings v Queanbeyan Whites; Women's: Tuggeranong Viqueens v Royals; Colts: Gungahlin Eagles v Queanbeyan Whites. All games at Viking Park.
First division: First grade: Gungahlin Eagles v Tuggeranong Vikings; Second grade: Tuggearnong Vikings v Queanbeyan Whites.