The Illawarra Cutters secured second spot on the Intrust Super Premiership NSW table when they defeated the Wyong Roos 28-20 in an entertaining last round fixture at Morrie Breen Oval this afternoon.
Both teams played the match at a cracking pace despite both teams having qualified for the Finals Series.
Wyong started strongly when after early successive penalties, a Mitch Cornish short ball found Zane Tetevano to score. Cornish converted and Wyong led 6-nil.
The Roos doubled their lead seven minutes later when second rower Chris Smith put on a step from close range before carrying over two Cutter defenders to score. Cornish converted and the Roos led 12-nil.
Illawarra then worked into the game when they finally got their hands on some football. In the 19th minute, an inside pass from Sam Coster saw second rower Chris Lewis stroll through a yawning gap in the Wyong goal line defence to score his first try. Shaun Nona converted and Wyong led 12-6.
The Cutters scored one of the best tries seen this season in the Intrust Super Premiership five minutes later.
Running the ball on the last tackle from midfield, superb support play through Nona, Coster and half Josh McCrone saw the ball go through no less than 11 sets of hands – with the last inside pass turned back to interchange forward Jay Gallagher to complete a superb team try. Nona missed the conversion and Wyong led 12-10.
The Cutters then took the lead eight minutes from half time when a switch of play to the left on the last tackle saw a Nona grubber kick picked up by winger Kalifa Faifai Loa who passed inside in traffic to centre Levi Dodd to score behind the posts. Nona converted and the Cutters were up 16-12.
Nona then conceded a penalty on the stroke of half time for a holding down professional foul in goal line defence. Cornish converted the penalty to have the Cutters leading 16-14 at the break.
The Roos again started the second half well when after sustained early pressure from a striping penalty, centre Matt Ikavalu finished off a left side raid to score and regain the lead at 20-16 after Cornish landed the conversion.
Wyong then made key mistakes to allow Illawarra back into the game – and paid the maximum penalty as the Cutters dominated the back end of the second half.
From a turnover off a poor Omar Slaimankhel pass into touch with and a piggy back penalty for a high tackle from the scrum with 13 minutes left, a Blake Wallace face ball found Lewis who completed his second try out wide. Nona converted for the Cutters to regain the lead at 22-20.
From the restart set, the Cutters worked field position for Wallace to send Dodd away for his second try to give Illawarra a match winning 28-20 lead when Nona again added the extras.
Wyong could not make the most of the possession they had in the closing stages as the Cutters ran down the clock to secure their win.
Illawarra finish in second place on 34 points and will play either the Wests Tigers or Newtown in the second Qualifying Final next weekend in the opening weel of the finals.
Wyong finish in sixth spot on 28 points and will take on Canterbury-Bankstown in the second knock-out Elimination Final next weekend.