The North Sydney Bears have fanned the flames of their finals aspirations after scoring a comprehensive 34-6 upset over the second-placed Mounties at Aubrey Keech Reserve on Saturday afternoon.
Match: Mounties v Bears
Round 20 -
Venue: Aubrey Keech Reserve
In a must-win game, the Bears were extremely dominant for most of the proceedings. Onlookers would have been forgiven for thinking it was North Sydney in the top four rather than Mounties. Two-try hero Connor Tracey and halfback Dean Hawkins were outstanding in the win.
Mounties deeply missed the guidance of star hooker Craig Garvey and a slew of other regulars. A multitude of unforced errors cruelled the home side, who struggled to build any pressure.
It initially appeared as though the Bears were in for a long afternoon following a horror beginning to the match. To start, they were penalised for being offside from the opening kick-off. Next, they failed to complete their first set of six.
The visitors held firm in defence amid the mistakes, however, and Mounties weren't able to capitalise on the territory.
An arm wrestle ensued and neither team could crack the other. It took a piece of individual brilliance from Bears five-eighth Tracey in the 13th minute to break the deadlock.
With nothing happening, Tracey suddenly burst into the clear and burnt all chasers on his way to a scintillating try. Hawkins couldn't convert from out wide as North Sydney took a 4-0 lead.
The Bears nearly extended the margin five minutes later when they created space down the right edge close to the line – only for the final pass to end up over the sideline instead of in the arms of unmarked winger Richard Kennar.
But just minutes later, North Sydney notched a second try. After a slick back line shift down the left, centre Jacob Gagan powerfully planted the ball on the chalk. This time, Hawkins nailed the conversion from virtually the same spot as his first goal attempt.
With the Bears leading comfortably, Hawkins sunk the boot in using his pinpoint kicking game, constantly finding open space and forcing Mounties to come out of their own end.
The pressure almost culminated in another four-pointer when North Sydney winger Mawene Hiroti made a clean break down the left sideline. Enter Tyler Cornish: the Mounties fullback produced an inspirational legs tackle to take Hiroti into touch and save a certain try.
Mounties again narrowly avoided sinking further behind soon after, desperately stopping an outstretched Tracey from claiming a double.
Those efforts proved invaluable, with a converted try to winger Tony Satini in the dying seconds of the first-half sending Mounties into the sheds behind only 10-6 despite being utterly outplayed.
Mounties burst out of the gates in the second-half and went straight on the attack, but North Sydney was able to strike against the grain.
A Mounties grubber was deflected and scooped up by a flying Kennar, who in turn found centre Braidon Burns backing up. He scurried away untouched to complete a stunning 100-metre turnaround for North Sydney. Hawkins added the extras.
A Hawkins penalty goal in the 49th minute pushed the Bears' advantage to 12; the way it would stay until for the next quarter of an hour.
In similar circumstances to the try prior, North Sydney scored again when Tracey cleaned up a loose ball after a Mounties kick and was far too quick for the trailing defence. Hawkins nailed the conversion.
There was no halting the Bears from there onwards, as they nabbed another try through interchange forward Samuel Johnstone.
An all-in scuffle occurred late in the piece that resulted in the sin-binnings of North Sydney's Rhys Kennedy and Mounties' Corey Horsburgh. The Bears added one final try to Kennar while the duo cooled their heels.
Mounties now trail the ladder-leading Penrith Panthers by five points in the race for the minor premiership.
Meanwhile, North Sydney advances to two points outside the top eight, setting up an enticing clash next round with the currently eighth-placed Wyong Roos (who still have a match to play in Round 20).