By Jamie Anderson at Leichhardt Oval
The Illawarra Cutters played a near faultless last 40 minutes to book their spot in the Preliminary Final courtesy of a 29-12 win over the Warriors at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday.
Fielding a different looking side to the one that was humbled by the Panthers just a week earlier, the Cutters showed many why they were a permanent fixture in the top four for most of the 2014 season.
Aided by a strong breeze for the first forty minutes the Cutters would have been hopeful of making the most of it, however it was the Warriors who struck first.
Big Sam Lousi, standing six foot six in the old measurement, took on the Cutters line and despite the attention of four Illawarra defenders, somehow he freed up an arm and planted the ball down despite still almost standing upright.
But the Cutters hit back almost immediately in the 17th minute when Drew Hutchison, who was one of the Cutters best on the night, made a half break and then found a supporting Shannon Wakeman who burst onto the ball and sprinted clear to lock the scores up at six apiece.
The remainder of the first half was the proverbial arm wrestle with both sides completing sets at a very high rate and as a result, the majority of play took place between the two twenties.
Upon resumption of the second stanza, it was Hutchison who was once again the catalyst for the Cutters second of the night.
After earning his side a repeat set with a deft grubber, Hutchison orchestrated a quick play the ball and then fast hands from Duggan, Eather and finally Runciman found an unmarked Cranston who dove over in the corner.
But just as the Cutters began to look the better of the two sides, the Warriors retook the lead as they scored a brilliant try that began in their own half. A couple of nice offloads eventually found Tuimavave who in turn sent Faitala-Mariner off on a run towards the try-line, and the athletic back rower proved to be too powerful for the Cutters custodian.
The Warriors now lead the match 12-10 with under half an hour remaining, but unfortunately for their fans in attendance and those watching from across the ditch, they wouldn’t bother the scorer again.
The Cutters retook the lead in the 58th minute after a nice second man play found Peter Mata’utia who was too strong close to the line.
And then in the 61st minute, Shannon Wakeman capped off a man of the match performance after he returned a Warriors dropout from inside his own half right back through the heart of some questionable defence and scored the try of the match.
Duggan then coolly slotted a field goal to put the Cutters up by seven before late tries to Runciman and Matthews saw them eventually win by 17 points.
As a result the Warriors season draws to a close while the Cutters will now tackle the Knights at Leichhardt Oval this Sunday at 3pm.
Illawarra Cutters 29 (S Wakeman 2, T Cranston, P Mata’utia, C Runciman, W Matthews tries; S Duggan 2 goals; S Duggan field goal) def. NZ Warriors 12 (S Lousi, R Faitala-Mariner tries; S Cook 2 goals) at Leichhardt Oval.