Latrell Schaumkel was the second-half hat-trick hero for the North Sydney Bears to continue their Finals march with a convincing 20-point upset victory over the Canterbury Bulldogs.
It appeared to be an uphill battle for the Bears against the competition heavyweights who trailed 12-6 at halftime before they exploded in the second half as Schaumkel bagged his three-try haul in a blistering seven-minute passage.
The win sees the Bears enter the top eight, setting up a mouth-watering showdown against the competition leaders, the Warriors, at North Sydney Oval on Sunday with just four games remaining in the regular season.
Without several of the Bears’ key players – Cody Walker, Kyle Turner and Cameron McInnes – the Bulldogs gained the upper ascendency after dominating the early exchanges between the two forward packs.
The Bulldogs took an early 6-0 lead following George Tsikrikas’ powerful solo try in the 14th minute and dominated the first-half with 57% of possession.
The Bears showed plenty of resilience to stay in the contest and level the scores in the 25th minute with one of the tries of the season. In another terrific performance, Darren Nicholls had the vision to kick cross field on the second tackle for Bernard Gregorius to spectacularly take the one-handed catch and fend off his opposite number to travel ten metres before falling over the try line.
Adam Elliot, was sensational all-match long for the Bulldogs, and gave them the halftime lead with a highlight-worthy over-the-top one handed offload for Levi Dodd to finish the try.
The Bears ignited to start the second half, spreading the ball left early in the tackle count for great success.
In a superb man-of-the-match effort, Paul Carter showed his first-grade class as he blitzed the Bulldogs’ right-side defence to set up all five second-half tries. Carter found Schaumkel for his first and second tries in the left corner as the Bears took an 18-12 lead with 30 minutes remaining.
Schaumkel completed the hat-trick with back-to-back tries as the Bears finished a neat back line move shifting the ball through the hands to the left, and then laid on their fourth try in 12 minutes for an emphatic 30-12 lead with 23 minutes to play. This time it was Schaumkel setting up Kirisome Auva'a for the try.
The Bulldogs became sloppy in attack as they grew desperate to avoid their second-straight loss. Tautalatasi Tasi finally crossed for the Bulldogs to trail 30-16 for a slight chance of victory with eight minutes remaining but the Bears capped the day with a final try in a season momentum-building 36-16 win.
North Sydney Bears 36 (Latrell Schaumkel 3, Bernard Gregorius, Kirisome Auva'a, Darren Nicholls tries; Nicholls 6 goals) bt Canterbury Bulldogs 16 (Levi Dodd, Tautalatasi Tasi, George Tsikrikas tries; Chase Stanley 2 goals)