By Nick Janzen (NSWRL.com.au)
The Illawarra Cutters were 26-22 winners over the Wyong Roos at WIN Stadium, Wollongong on Saturday.
The match was a cliffhanger from start to finish – with both sides threatening to stamp their authority at various stages before Cutters prop Damien Sironen crashed over from close range to seal the deal in the 78th minute.
In a rare evening match played under the bright lights of WIN Stadium, it was the home side that got off to a perfect start, with a series of penalties gifting eventual man of the match Shannon Wakeman an easy pushover from dummy-half in just the fourth minute.
Wyong looked likely to strike back straight away but some great defence from Taane Milne saw the Roos flung into touch.
Jake Lewis, however, eventually responded for the Roos in the 20th minute with a Jackson Hastings-Tyler Cornish combination laying the platform for forward Jake Lewis to crash over.
The younger brother of Mitchell Cornish converted to make the scores level.
Chris Smith took the Roos to the lead after skipper Mitch Williams jumped from dummy half and shifted right to Paki Afu to bump off a handful of defenders, before flinging a ball to give Smith the space to storm through a hole and score.
The lead grew with twelve minutes to go in the first-half, with some crisp lead-up passing from Williams once again benefiting his side, this time with Zane Tetevano crashing over on the left-hand side of the field, taking to 16-6.
The Cutters struck back on the cusp of half-time with winger Tom Carr flying over after some great inside passing from Milne and Adam Clune in a sensational sleight of hands.
The Cutters came out in the second half ready to continue their momentum – and continue it they did as a right-to-left shift involved Adam Quinlan saw Levi Dodd burst through.
Shaun Nona’s conversion tied the scores.
Quinlan and Dodd combined again soon after to give the Cutters the lead when, on the fifth tackle and after a Saliva Havili bust, a shift to the left saw Dodd angle in to fling the ball open to an unmarked Porter to cross for the easiest of tries and a 20-16 lead.
Hastings, however, gave the visitors a lead once again with a sublime cross-field kick that fell into the hands of Brendan Elliott to score.
Cornish’s conversion handed Wyong a 22-20 lead, one they held until just two minutes from full-time before Sironen crashed over for the hosts.
Nona added the extras to round-out the game 26-22 in his team's favour.
Illawarra Cutters 26. Tries: Wakeman, Carr, Dodd, Porter, Sironen. Goals: Nona (3/5).
Wyong Roos 22. Tries: Lewis, Smith, Tetevano, Elliot. Goals: Cornish (3/4).