By Matt Buxton (NSWRL.com.au)
The Illawarra Cutters endured a frustrating start to the season, losing five of their opening six matches by no more than two converted tries.
They managed to force their way into the top eight at the mid-point of the season with the draw providing the Cutters their three byes before every other team in the competition.
This led to a long back-end to the year, and caused great fatigue – resulting in four consecutive defeats to finish the season.
We had our ups and downs throughout the season," said Football Manager Neil Lovett.
"Overall we were disappointed in not qualifying for the finals series.
"In our short four-year history, we’ve been able to manage [to make the finals] on two of our other years.
"Part of our non-qualification, we feel, was we lost access to quite a number of our Dragons-feeder players throughout the year, as they transferred out of the Dragons structure.
"We also lost a couple of our key players to injuries late in the season, and the quality of our team fell off towards the back-end of the year, which didn’t allow us to win the extra two games that we needed to qualify for this year’s finals series.”
With their season on the line in Round 21 and coming off a heavy defeat at the hands of North Sydney, the Cutters were faced with the task of defeating the Panthers – who were leading the competition at the time – to keep their finals hopes alive.
A clinical performance saw them prevail 22-18 victors, which extremely pleased coach Scott Logan, Lovett and the Cutters at the time.
The Cutters needed to win two of their final four matches to qualify for the finals, but didn’t manage to gain a single victory in this period.
Rather than a single game, this was the most disappointing set of matches for the Cutters, who had proven their credentials with a victory over the defending premiers, but could not maintain that form at the back-end of the season.
"We had a number of players who, throughout a disappointing season, performed particularly well," said Lovett.
"Our player of the year was named as Russell Packer.
"Russell was obviously a player who was well above a NSW Cup standard, he’s a test player, and awaiting re-entry into the NRL competition, and we were pleased for him to be able to pass on his knowledge and his love of the game to the Cutters players throughout the season.
"Adam Tuimavave-Gerrard – our back rower – also performed particularly well for us, as did our up and coming hooker/back-rower in Sam Coster."
Destined For The NRL:
Besides the obvious choice of Russell Packer, who is already an established NRL star, Craig Garvey is an outstanding hooker who was rewarded with seven NRL appearances this season.
Despite missing a handful of games, the creative youngster made 62 tackles out of dummy half, and is a defensive workhorse.
There will be a new coaching set up at the Cutters in 2016, which the club hope can add a new perspective and dimension into their on-field performances.
A frustrating amount of narrow losses proves that the Cutters have the capability within the squad to keep up with teams, but it’s about applying pressure and consistency in providing a regular 80-minute performance.