By Nathan Beuman at WIN Stadium
The Illawarra Cutters produced their best performance of the season so far, putting the cleaners through the North Sydney Bears on their way to a 50-12 hiding at WIN Stadium, Wollongong.
In a lopsided affair that saw the newly-formed halves pairing of Kris Keating and Shannon Crook control the tempo of play with their superior kicking game, it was the Cutters’ back five that were the main beneficiaries, combining for six of the nine tries scored, including a hat-trick to former Bear Justin Hunt.
The home side were in control from the get go, with former South Sydney Rabbitohs and Penrith Panthers centre, Junior Vaivai, pouncing on an error at the back from the Bears to open the scoring in the fourth minute of play.
Vaivai, who was a late inclusion into the line-up for Euan Aitken following his call-up to the Dragons, scored his second try only moments later, slicing through some woeful North Sydney defence to score under the posts. Crook’s conversion pushed the Cutters lead out to 10-0 after 11 minutes.
Things only got worse from there for the Bears, with a pinpoint kick by Crook falling into the waiting arms of winger Tyron Cranston, who got the ball down just inside the sideline.
Crook’s conversion from the western touchline was unsuccessful, leaving the score at 14-0 after just 16 minutes.
Despite Illawarra dominating all facets of the game in the opening quarter, the Bears found themselves back in the contest when a Nikko Roberts grubber bamboozled the Cutters winger, before taking a kind bounce for an unmarked Sam Manuleleua to get North Sydney on the board.
Roberts had no problem with the conversion from 15 metres in from touch, cutting the deficit to only eight points.
Just when it felt as though the Bears were starting to assert themselves, Crook got a ball away to second rower Nathan Green, before batting it back inside to a trailing Justin Hunt to score under the posts and extend their lead to 20-6 following Crook’s conversion.
In an amazing turn of events before the break, Illawarra capitalised on a North Sydney knock on over the try line, taking a quick 20-metre tap and storming down field to score their firth try of the opening stanza through former junior Kiwi, Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard.
Poor discipline by the Cutters allowed North Sydney back into the game after half-time, with back-to-back penalties gifting the Bears ideal field position, before Brad Wall put Jack Gosiewski over to close the gap to 14 points.
A number of poor last-tackle options by North Sydney enabled Illawarra to start a majority of their sets in good field position, allowing the home side to run away with the match in the final quarter of the game.
Back-to-back converted tries to veteran five-eighth Kris Keating in the 60th and 64th minute pushed the Cutters lead out to 38-12, ensuring they pick up their second win from three starts.
Adding to the Bears’ miseries, Justin Hunt managed to cross twice in three minutes, capping off his hat-trick and a 50-12 victory in sending a warning sign to the rest of the competition.
Both teams are on the road in Round 4, with the Cutters heading to Ringrose Park to take on the winless Wentworthville Magpies on Sunday at 3:00pm, while the North Sydney Bears head to Mt Smart Stadium to do battle with the New Zealand Warriors at 1:00pm on Saturday.
ILLAWARRA CUTTERS 50 (J Hunt 3, J Vaivai 2, K Keating 2, T Cranston, A Tuimavave-Gerard tries; S Crook 7 goals) bt NORTH SYDNEY BEARS 12 (S Manuleleua, J Gosiewski tries; N Roberts 2 goals)