MAKOI Bulldogs upset defending Vodafone Cup champions Nadera Panthers 26-16 in the second premier grade semi-final yesterday.
Displaying sheer guts and determination, the Fair Trade sponsored-side totally shut out the reigning champions at their own game to dethrone them.
This was the Bulldogs' first semi-final appearance since 2005 and they pulled out all the tricks in the bag to qualify for their first-ever final.
The Bulldogs dominated the game from the first whistle as they scored five tries to three.
Five eight Ilikena Niumataiwalu was the man pulling the strings for Makoi as he scored six points with his boots and had a hand in nearly every try for his side.
The 20-year-old Fiji National University student was the first on the scoresheet with a penalty early in the game. John Merry and Suliasi Talakai scored tries in the first-half for Makoi and Niumataiwalu added a conversion.
Panthers trailed 6-12 at the break.
Maikeli Dakuitoga scored early in the second-half as the Dee Cees-sponsored side mounted a comeback.
The four-pointer was cancelled out by Bulldogs fullback, Filipe Puamau's try.
A try to Marika and conversion from Koroi midway in the second-half were the last points for the Panthers in the match.
Niumataiwalu kicked another penalty and Etika Robuli and Eliki Ledua scored to bring scores to 26-16.
Elated coach Maika Vunivere said his boys played their cards right in the match and stuck to the game plan.
He said the plan was to deny Nadera possession and turn possession into points.
"I am really delighted with the performance of the boys, we lost to them last year, we lost to them in the round robin competition but we beat them when it mattered most," the former Fiji Bati said.
"The message to them was to deny the Panthers possession, pin them in their own half and use our balls to score points and that is what the boys did."
Panthers coach Vula Dakuitoga said his players didn't make use of their advantages in the game but did play a grand game.
He said it was not the end of the world but a learning experience for his team.
"We did play a good game but Bulldogs played better and beat us," Dakuitoga said.
"But it's they way it is, one has to win and one has to lose and today (yesterday) we lost."
Vunivere said despite the win, the match revealed some chinks in their amour.
"There is a lot of room for improvement for the final and that is something we will work on next week," he said.
Dakuitoga said his aim for next year was to further develop the younger players in his squad.
"We have a lot of young players and we will work on them and for the players who have done well this season we will try and secure overseas contracts for them. We have to keep the development process flowing, move the senior players to the next level and bring the younger ones to another level."