By Andrew Stark
The Wentworthville Magpies maintained a share of the competition lead edging out North Sydney 20-16 in a wet and willing round eight battle at Bear Park.
Norths crossed for four tries to three however they were ultimately undone by the steady goal kicking of Wenty half Luke Kelly who methodically slotted four from four in tricky conditions.
The early signs were positive for the Bears. A clever Nathan Merritt chip kick into the corner after just two minutes almost paid dividends for Lote Tuqiri who went within an uncut pinky nail of grounding the in goal Steeden.
Norths did however manage to cross for the game’s opening try eight minutes later after Ben Lowe charged down a Wentworthville clearing kick to give the Bears a red hot attacking set. A swift shift right saw the pill zing through the hands. Kurt Aldridge sent it onto Joe Uluibau who in turn found Lote Tuqiri, the big Fijian diving into the corner to register four.
The rain continued to tumble and the going became mighty heavy. Attacking fortunes ebbed and flowed with neither side finding the knack to impact the scoreboard until a sudden burst of up-tempo footy saw the Magpies cross out wide late in the half. Liam Foran found Api Pewhairangi and onto Bureta Faraimo for the try. A brilliant sideline conversion from Kelly nudged Wenty ahead 6-4, a lead they held to the interval.
Norths began the second period full of running and a brilliant back handed offload from prop Nat Neale put Tuqiri away on a long run. A Magpie fumble from a subsequent Bears kick ahead saw an attacking scrum for the home side from which a second man play allowed Merritt to put left winger Mark O’Dare into the Mollie Dive corner.
Norths were leading 8-6 after 49 minutes when they lost Ben Lowe to the sin bin following on from a melee which erupted in front of the sticks at the southern end. His ten minute sentence would prove costly as the Magpies were able to cross twice during this period of numerical advantage.
Amazing strength from Isaac Maliota saw the nuggetty back rower dive over under the crossbar with a host of red and black men draped across his back. And when Api Pewhairangi darted over, Wenty had suddenly skipped out to lead 18-8. Norths weren’t done with yet however and on the hour Blake South slipped a sweet pass onto Matt Hyland, the tireless lock forward galloped up-field, drew the fullback and O’Dare had his second.
An offside penalty extended the Magpies lead to eight before Mark O’Dare claimed his third try of the half with just five minutes remaining on the clock. The try was instigated following a scything run from Rabbitoh’s legend Nathan Merritt who capped off his dash by delivering a superbly weighted grubber into the path of the well bandaged left winger O’Dare.
Norths almost pulled the game out of the mud in the dying moments when Tuqiri wrapped around Joe Uluibau to set sail up-field however the play ultimately broke down and Wentworthville were able to hang on to record a gritty 20-16 win.
This weekend Wenty will host the Knights on Sunday in an all top four affair while the Bears head west to Sportingbet Stadium to face the Bulldogs.
Wentworthville Magpies 20 (A Pewhairangi, I Maliota, B Faraimo tries; L Kelly 4 goals) def. North Sydney Bears 16 (M O’Dare 3, L Tuqiri tries) at North Sydney Oval.