GARY Golding is heading to the 2019 NRL Telstra Premiership grand final in Sydney next month after taking out the Muswellbrook Chronicle Footy Tipping Challenge.
The Crofts Pies baker rose to the occasion in recent weeks, to finish with 247 points, to claim the crown from Chris Merrick (245) and Phil Powell (243).
As a result of his victory, Mr Golding picked up a double pass to the decider at ANZ Stadium on Sunday, October 6.
"I'm really surprised," he said.
"I actually thought [Chris] Merrick had it in the bag.
"But, a mate rang me and told me I'd won.
"So, I rushed down to buy the paper to make sure it wasn't a joke."
Despite strong performances from Millie Harris (237), Libbie Cousins (239), Powell and Merrick throughout 2019, Mr Golding surged home with a wet sail.
"There's no secret; I just took who I thought would win," he said.
"Then I went for a few upsets in the final couple of rounds - and that paid off.
"To be honest, I was in a position where I had to."
Even though his NRL side, St George Illawarra Dragons, failed to make an impression on the ladder, Mr Golding said it had been a good year in the punting stakes.
"I won the work tipping contest, too," the Muswellbrook resident explained.
"It makes up for the Dragons' disappointing season.
"They should have gone better, especially with the roster they've got.
"Something has to change at the club.
"However, I'm looking forward to the upcoming grand final.
"I was hoping to see the Sydney Roosters and Melbourne Storm in action, but that can't happen after the weekend.
"Maybe it will be the Roosters and Canberra Raiders now.
"I'm taking my daughter Caitlin with me.
"She's extremely keen to witness the pre-game entertainment, featuring a band called One Republic.
"It should be a great occasion."
The Chronicle thanks Upper Hunter Automotive, Biglift Cranes and Heavy Haulage, PPS Pumps and Pipeline Services, Teterin Supply, Teterin Engineering, Muswellbrook Marketplace, Pacific Furniture and Bedding and Aah Pizza Bella for sponsoring the competition throughout the year.