The Newcastle Knights scored a vital 32-16 win over Illawarra Cutters at Hunter Stadium to sit in fifth position on the VB NSW Cup ladder.
Five tries in the first half set up the win for the Knights as they led by 20 points at halftime.
The late inclusion of Jake Mamo lifted the home side but it was Honeti Tuha who got the crowd on their feet early with an intercept, running 40 metres to score out wide.
The Cutters got into an attacking position on the back of several penalties and scored shortly after thanks to Peni Botiki. Blake Wallace added the extras and Illawarra had the lead 6-4 after 15 minutes.
That would be the only first-half joy the Cutters had as the Knights picked up the pace, scoring four unanswered tries. Kerrod Holland, Chanel Mata’utia, Jaelen Feeney and Ben Tupou all got tries with the best of the lot being a 70-metre dash from Holland who brushed past several Cutters to the line.
Newcastle went into the sheds with a comfortable 26-6 lead.
It looked like it was going to be a long day at the office for the Illawarra boys when stand in five-eighth George Ndaira dummied then beat fellow veteran Heath L L’Estrange to score the Knights’ sixth try of the day.
The game was as good as gone for the Cutters but they displayed much pride playing until the final siren. Just over an hour into the match, Illawarra scored their second try thanks to some nifty footwork from Adam Clune, stepping past several Knights defenders to score next to the posts.
There was still plenty of footy to be played as the Knights shifted back a gear and allowed the Cutters easy field position. It wasn’t long before Illawarra was on the attack again and scored their third try thanks to Adam Tumavave-Gerrard.
16 points behind with 10 minutes left to play, the Cutters may have thought they were a chance but the Knights lifted their intensity and made sure they didn’t concede further points before full time.
The Knights’ first half demolition laid the platform for a solid victory. The Cutters had their chances but came up with costly errors at crucial times.
Newcastle held out for a 32-16 win, which virtually guarantees them a spot in the finals, whilst Illawarra hang dangerously close to missing out on Finals footy. The Cutters sit in eighth and face competition heavyweights, Mounties, Bulldogs and Penrith Panthers in a tough road to the Finals.
Newcastle Knights 32 (Kerrod Holland, Honeti Tuha, Chanel Mata'utia, George Ndaira, Jaelen Feeney & Ben Tupou tries; Kerrod Holland 4 goals) Illawarra Cutters 16 (Adam Clune, Peni Botiki, Adam Tumavave-Gerrard tries; Blake Wallace 2 goals) at Hunter Stadium.