Mounties showed why they currently share top spot on the VB NSW Cup table with a gutsy 24-20 win over the Illawarra Cutters at WIN Stadium.
The visitors demonstrated last week’s collapse against the Penrith Panthers was a distant memory, as they recorded their third win in four weeks to hold onto second place on the competition table.
It was Mounties right-side edge that took control, with the pairing of Jeremy Hawkins and Brenko Lee terrorising the Cutters defence all afternoon, making a number of line breaks on their way to each scoring a four pointer.
It was Illawarra who posted first points, with fullback Blake Wallace setting up Kayne Brennan in the left corner to give his side an early lead.
Wallace was unable to continue his good work, missing the conversion to leave the score at 4-0 after seven minutes.
Shannon Crook’s third charged-down kick in the opening quarter of an hour led to Mounties getting on the board, with Mitch Cornish darting over from dummy half to level the scores. Cornish was unable to convert his own try, leaving the scores level at 4-all after 18 minutes.
With Crook struggling with a knee injury, Mounties sent play down the right edge at the number seven, setting Brenko Lee up for the simple try and an 8-4 lead.
A brilliant piece of defence by Illawarra second rower Peni Botiki saw the Cutters level the scores up just before the break, with Blake Wallace again showing his class, placing a perfectly-weighed chip kick for Junior Vaivai in the corner.
The visitors’ growing possession to start the second half finally paid dividends ten minutes in, when Mitch Cronin got an arm free to get the pass away to his outside man, Stewart Mills.
With Cornish’s first successful conversion of the afternoon, Mounties jumped out to a 14-8 lead with just under half an hour remaining.
Illawarra quickly hit back though, when a monster hit by Dylan Strickland led to a change in possession, before Blake Wallace continued to leave his imprint on the game, scooting away for the four pointer.
Wallace was able to convert to level the scores up a 14 a piece with 25 minutes left.
Two tries in the space of 10 minutes to Mark Nicholls and Hawkins saw Mounties jump out to a 24-14 lead with nine minutes remaining, all but ending the Cutters chances of working their way back into the game.
Illawarra did not give up though, with a Heath L’Estrange grubber kick off the scrum for a wide open Eli Roberts with five minutes left giving the home side hope, but it was a case of too little, too late for the Cutters.
Illawarra’s loss leaves them two points out of the top eight, with an important clash against the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs this Saturday afternoon sure to go a long way to deciding whether they play finals football or not.
Mounties 24 (S Mills, B Lee, M Cornish, M Nicholls, J Hawkins tries; Cornish 2 goals) bt Illawarra Cutters 20 (J Vaivai, K Brennan, B Wallace, E Roberts tries; Wallace 2 goals) at WIN Stadium.