Not even a clairvoyant could predict the outcome of the tightest finals race in VB NSW Cup history.
With just two rounds remaining, the fight for top spot intensifies as Mounties, Penrith Panthers, Wyong Roos and Warriors remain in a four-way deadlock at the top of the table for yet another week.
All four teams wrestled victory on in Round 23 to guarantee a valuable top-four finish while the Manly Sea Eagles squeezed into the top eight at the expense of the Illawarra Cutters who fall to ninth place.
Manly held the Canterbury Bulldogs scoreless in the second half to overcome a 12-4 halftime deficit in a 26-12 upset win. The Sea Eagles host both the last-placed Wentworthville Magpies and sixth-placed Newcastle Knights in their final two games. Manly now sit in eighth place, two points ahead of the Cutters, who suffered a devastating blow with a narrow 24-20 loss against Mounties. It’s a tough ask for the Cutters in their last two matches on the road against the Bulldogs and Panthers.
The North Sydney Bears loudly proclaimed their premiership aspirations with a 52-20 beat down on the Knights. Joel Reddy bagged a hat trick for the South Sydney Rabbitohs feeder side, while John Olive scored a double for the Bears’ fourth win in a row.
Wyong also dismantled the Magpies 52-16 to seize the opportunity to boost their point differential and sit atop the ladder in first place. Chris Centrone also claimed a hat trick in Round 23 in the 36-point rout.
The Newtown Jets and Wests Tigers must win both of their remaining matches and still require a miracle to make the finals after disappointing losses.
Maliko Filino scored his hat trick in the final minute for the Penrith Panthers to steal the 20-18 win and crush the Jets’ finals dream. Newtown was desperate for victory and took it right to the Panthers. Todd Murphy produced one of the tries of the season with a wonderful chip-and-chase try for the Jets to take what appeared to be the match-winning try.
Wests Tigers were the better side in the first half, jumping out to an early 10-nil lead, but were left lamenting a lackluster second-half performance in their 20-16 loss against the Warriors. Man-of-the-match Mason Lino steered his side to the vital road win and ensure the Warriors remain tied for first place.