The Illawarra Steelers' Harold Matthews season has come to a crushing end after the Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles recorded a 46-6 semi-final victory at Belmore Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.
The Sea Eagles opened the scoring in just the ninth minute when back rower Jacob Ratcliff couldn’t be stopped close to the line.
Manly kept it going just two minutes later when halfback Daniel Ala strolled through soft Steelers defence to give his side a 10-0 advantage.
Five-eighth Kaeo Weekes was next to score when he went over untouched to extend the Sea Eagles' lead.
Manly scored three more tries before half-time thanks to skipper Joshua Schuster (twice) and Weekes again to head into the break with a commanding 34-0 lead.
If the Steelers were any chance of making a comeback they had to score first, which is what they did when back-rower Duke Grant found some space to get the Illawarra side on the board.
That was where the joy ended for Illawarra as Manly continued their dominance 10 minutes later when hooker Jack Birt went over from dummy-half to make it 38-6.
Five minutes later Ben Trbojevic strolled through the tired Steelers side to make it 42-6 while Albert Hopoate scored a spectacular try in the corner soon after to round out the 40-point upset win.
As a result the Steelers are now eliminated from the Harold Matthews finals series.
Hooker and skipper Connor Muhleisen was disappointed by the result.
"The scoreboard says it all, we weren’t up to scratch and the better side got us on the day," Muhleisen said.
"Everyone’s heads were down but there is no room to feel sorry for yourself. We’re here to play football and we know we are a better side than that."
"The result doesn’t do us justice. We had potential to take out the comp, we were the dark horses."
Coach Ben Linde said his side's enthusiasm just wasn't there.
"We were way below par. Our energy levels just weren't good enough. Our first contact was poor and we got what we deserved for what we showed up with," Linde said.
"In the second half we showed a lot more fight. But to go out in consecutive finals losses is very disappointing."
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 46 (Joshua Schuster 2, Kaeo Weekes 2, Jacob Ratcliff, Daniel Ala, Jack Birt, Ben Trbojevic, Albert Hopoate tries, Daniel Ala 5 goals) defeated Illawarra Steelers 6 (Duke Grant try, Jayden Sullivan goal) at Belmore Sportsground. Half-time: Sea Eagles 34-0.
Meanwhile the Illawarra Steelers SG Ball are through to the Preliminary Finals after recording a 40-18 upset win over the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Sportsground on Saturday afternoon.
The Bulldogs drew first blood in the fifth minute when back rower Evander Swann scored to give his side the early advantage.
Just minutes later, the Steelers hit back with a try through winger Jiye Ellis to help level the scoreline.
Illawarra fullback Tyson Simpson was next to score to give his side the lead for the first time. It gave the visitors a 12-6 lead.
Canterbury hit back soon after when winger Logen Dillon caught defenders napping to score out wide.
Nine minutes from half-time co-captain Zaan Weatherall scored a spectacular 70-metre try to give his side an 18-10 half-time lead.
Three minutes into the second half the Bulldogs were first to cross when centre Amose Manu found space out wide to bring the margin back to four.
At the 50th minute, a clever grubber in-goal from Illawarra interchange player Tyran Wishart was swooped on by halfback Blair Grant to score.
The Bulldogs however weren’t giving up as lock Pule Sua scored next. It would prove to be the final time the home side would score.
Tries to Illawarra trio Wishart, co-captain Bailey Dickinson and back-rower Matthew Delbanco rounded out the eventual 22-point win.
Winger Sam McCann shared his thoughts on the win and the upcoming preliminary final against Cronulla.
"It was a great result. We were a bit slow at the start but came back in the end and put some points on the board to get the result," McCann said.
"We came back in the second half and just ripped in.
"We have to start well against Cronulla next week and continue to improve. We are a different team to when we last met them."
Coach Shane Millard believes the Steelers are the most-improved team in the SG Ball Cup competition.
"I thought the first half was very ordinary and we kept Canterbury in the game. But in the second half we were outstanding, we were great football wise with the decisions we made," Linde said.
"We are probably the most improved team in the comp. Some individuals have improved immensely and their effort to keep turning up was very good, and that is what got us the result in the second half.
"We will have to play better than what we did this week, and when we played against Cronulla last time," Millard added.
"We just have to worry about what we do as we have a pretty simple game plan."
Illawarra Steelers 40 (Jiye Ellis, Tyson Simpson, Zaan Weatherall, Blair Grant, Tyran Wishart, Bailey Dickinson, Matthew Delbanco tries, Zaan Weatherall 6 goals) defeated Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 18 (Evander Swann, Logen Dillon, Amosa Manu, Pule Sua tries, Brandon Wakeham 1 goal) at Belmore Sportsground. Half-time: Steelers 18-10.
The Steelers will face the Penrith Panthers after the girls from the mountains were too good Eels following their 44-12 win at UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah on Saturday morning.
Finals Week Three Fixtures
Preliminary Finals (Grand Final Qualifiers)
Cronulla Sharks (1st) v Illawarra Steelers (7th) on Saturday, April 29 at Southern Cross Group Stadium, 1:30pm
Tarsha Gale Cup
Illawarra Steelers (3rd) v Penrith Panthers (5th) on Saturday, April 29 at Southern Cross Group Stadium, 3:30pm