The North Sydney Bears snapped their two-game losing streak in the Intrust Super Premiership NSW when they defeated an error-riddled Illawarra 23-10 in their match at Nowra Showground this afternoon.
The win keeps the Bears safely inside the top four for the moment as a four-point gap has now opened up to the rest of the the top eight as a result.
Showing more purpose in attack than they have in recent weeks, the Bears opened the scoring in the 11th minute when a clever Eli Levido cross-kick evaded Illawarra fullback Matt Dufty – allowing former Queensland State of Origin winger Dane Nielsen to pounce for his first try.
Illawarra had an early chance soon afterwards when centre Tyrell Fuimaono lost the ball at the end of a long right-side break, before Norths mounted extended pressure inside Illawarra’s defensive 20 metre area.
This pressure paid dividends in the 27th minute when a right-side spread saw winger Braidon Burns finish the movement off to score in the corner to give the Bears an 8-0 lead.
Illawarra then had their best passage of play in the 10 minutes either side of half-time.
First, five-eighth Jai Field snaffled an intercept off a pass from opposite number Levido five minutes from half-time and dashed 55 metres to score. Shaun Nona converted to get Illawarra back to being only 8-6 down at the break.
Then in the first set of six tackles to start the second half, a shift to the left from Nona saw winger Izaac Thompson in the clear to beat the poor cover defence and score in the corner and give the home side for the day a 10-8 lead.
The first of two critical Illawarra errors followed when winger Patrick Herbert dropped the ball in goal with a try on in the 46th minute.
The resultant seven tackle set saw Norths work their way inside Illawarra’s defensive 20-metre zone for interchange forward Tautalatasi Tasi to power over from dummy-half and score to put the Bears back in front at 12-10.
The Bears converted another repeat set deep in attack 11 minutes later when a sweeping backline movement through the hands saw Nielsen finish clinically in the corner for his second try. Poor goal-kicking from Levido – who finished with no goals from four attempts – kept the Norths lead to only 16-10.
The match became a series of errors, dropped balls and turnovers in the middle of the second half – before the other critical Illawarra error took place in the 66th minute.
A lovely Nona short ball put Josh Kerr into a yawning gap that saw the big prop make his way in goal – only to drop the ball as he was grounding it to score what would have been the match-levelling try.
Kerr then threw a pass intercepted by Fuimaono on Illawarra’s next attack to open the door for the Bears to put the game away.
Norths took their opportunity with seven minutes left when lock Cheyne Whitelaw strolled through token goal-line defence to score the match winning try under the posts. Interchange back Adam Doueihi landed the conversion to extend the Bears lead to 22-10.
Norths half Luke Kelly then slotted a neat 20-metre field goal with 90 seconds left to make sure of the two competition points.
Norths will now look to continue their winning form into their biggest home game of the year – the first of the annual Frank Hyde Shield games against the Newtown Jets at North Sydney Oval on Mother’s Day, 14 May.
Illawarra will now play to keep their place in the top eight in their next game against the Wentworthville Magpies at Ringrose Park – also on 14 May.
North Sydney Bears 23 (D Nielsen 2, B Burns, T Tasi, C Whitelaw tries; A Doueihi goal; L Kelly field goal) def Illawarra 10 (J Field, I Thompson tries; S Nona goal)