Newcastle Rebels have taken out the 2021 Open Men’s Steel City Challenge with a comfortable 36-4 victory over Illawarra Steelers at Collegians Sporting Complex on Sunday.
The Rebels flew out of the blocks to cross the try-line on three occasions in the first quarter of the contest and, despite their opposition stemming the flow of points on approach to halftime, Newcastle were ultimately able to run away with a 32-point win.
The opening try came in the eighth minute from a last-tackle kick to the right corner by halfback AJ Davis as the football missed the contest and bounced into the hands of James Bradley to put the ball down.
Just two minutes later, Newcastle found themselves in attacking range again with Davis threatening close to the line before laying on a flat, cut-out pass onto the chest of fullback Cameron Anderson to reach double figures on the scoreboard for the Rebels. AJ Davis kicked his second conversion of the afternoon for a 12-0 lead.
From the ensuing kick-off the Rebels dominated the middle-third to enter Illawarra’s red zone yet again, and back-rower Luke Higgins was rewarded with a try as a result when he barged over beneath the sticks from a Billy Gilbert pass out of dummy-half.
Newcastle looked on track to score for a fourth time only moments after their third as Anderson sliced through the line on the left touchline before an error on the following tackle, but the Steelers still couldn’t capitalise in the immediate set.
Illawarra managed to halt the Rebels’ point-scoring momentum for the next ten-minute period until five-eighth Dylan Phythian ran a perfect line from ten metres out to score after latching onto an offload by Mitchell Cullen, who evaded a handful of would-be tacklers in the buildup.
The men in red eventually produced their first points of the match with five minutes remaining before the break. Second row forward Tom Angel ran onto a short ball from Illawarra pivot Justin Rodrigues, diving over the line at the right post before centre Scott Galeano hooked the conversion attempt across the face of goal.
The Rebels had the final opportunity for points when a penalty was awarded at the end of the half, and AJ Davis struck the ball well from 44 metres to give his side a 26-4 advantage at the break.
The early exchanges of the second stanza weren’t as eventful compared to the first, as both sides traded errors and struggled to find the ascendancy.
Twenty-five minutes had elapsed in what was a scoreless second half at the time, but although the Steelers’ defence was holding firm, the task of overcoming the deficit was proving difficult.
With just over ten minutes left in the contest, however, Rebels hooker Gilbert scooped possession from the play-the-ball only metres from the line and cut through a retreating Illawarra defence to score. Davis nailed the kick at goal, taking the lead to 32-4.
While the result was already secured for Newcastle, the Rebels made the most of another attacking chance with two long balls by Davis and Cullen to find Tom Woodbury in open space for the final try of the afternoon, capping off a dominant 36-4 win.