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By Jamie Anderson

The Newcastle Knights have won their 9th straight match, and in doing so have set up a mouth-watering Grand Final clash against the Penrith Panthers at Allianz Stadium this Sunday.

It was a fast start by the Knights and also by their point scoring machine in Josh Mantellato who bagged himself a hat-trick inside the opening 15 minutes.

The Knights found plenty of joy attacking down the Cutters left hand side of defence early on and it was the competition’s leading point scorer who made the most of these raids.

His first try was put on a plate for him after some nice lead up work by Ross to free his arms in a tackle and pop a ball over the top while his second was another gift, this time from Pat Mata’utia who may well have scored himself had he had wanted to.

Mantellato’s third though was by far his best as he chased a pin point Dobson bomb to the corner and leapt high to claim the kick and in the blink of an eye the Knights lead it 16-0.

But in the 19th minute the Cutters were finally on the board when a series of offloads eventually saw the ball end up in the hands of Geoff Daniela who did well to reel it in and score.

However just minutes later the Knights were in again as Paterika Vaivai was far too strong for the Cutters defence close to the line and with the resulting conversion the Knights lead it by 18 points.

The two sides would largely trade possession for the remainder of the first half and at the break the Knights could almost touch the Grand Final berth that had eluded them for each of the past two seasons.

Illawarra came out and began to throw the ball around in an attempt to reduce the deficit however despite looking dangerous on several occasions; the opening try wasn’t to come their way because in the 51st minute Chad Redman found his way over the try line from close range.

The match was all but over as a contest in the 61st minute when a Michael Dobson high ball was spilt at the back by the Cutters and Dobson swooped on the loose ball before handing off to Chanel Mata’utia who dotted down for the easiest of tries.

A late try to Tyrone Cranston was to be the last of the scoring for the day and the Knights looked sharp in what was a professional win.

Injury concerns for Michael Dobson and Pat Mata’utia were the only black spots on an otherwise wonderful day for the Novocastrians.

Both Vaivai and Mataora were brilliant up front for Newcastle while Mantellato’s early onslaught set them up for the win.

Newcastle Knights 34 (J Mantellato 3, C Mata’utia, C Redman, P Vaivai tries; J Mantellato 3, M Dobson 2 goals) def. Illawarra Cutters 10 (T Cranston, G Daniela tries; S Duggan goal) at Leichhardt Oval.

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