The Newcastle Knights notched a dominant 34-10 victory over the Illawarra Cutters in the NSW Cup preliminary final at Leichhardt Oval on Sunday afternoon.
The win sees the Knights' reserve grade progress to the grand final, off the back of a nine-game winning streak.
The preliminary final was the third time the Knights had played the Cutters with a win to each team during the regular season, but the Knights proved too strong in the important third encounter.
It was a dominating first half that set the foundations for the Knights’ victory with winger Josh Mantellato a standout scoring a hat-trick and not missing the three conversions he took.
The Knights came out firing and enjoyed most of the possession in the first half benefitting from strong work of the side’s front rowers.
With the Knights gaining metres after being awarded off a penalty, a torpedo cut-out pass from fullback Nathan Ross to winger Mantellato saw the competition’s leading point-scorer ground the ball in the corner.
Michael Dobson was unable to get the kick from the sideline, but the Knights led 4-0.
In the ensuing play, the Knights pulled the same move down the right corner to see Mantellato score his second try in spectacular style.
This time Dobson made no mistakes nailing the conversion to take the Knights lead to 10-0.
The Cutters first real chance with the ball had the Knights dealing with plenty of offloads and charging runs through the middle.
But it was Mantellato who proved a challenge for the opposition when he collected a perfectly placed high kick to the corner from Dobson, leaping over the defence for his hat -trick.
Dobson added the extras with the Knights leading 16-0 in the 15th minute.
Clint Newton made a charging break, but a lose ball saw the Cutters come up with the advantage.
The Cutters soon capitalised with Geoff Daniella running through the Knights’ broken defensive line on the left edge to score their first try.
Kyle Stanley was unable to add the extras with the score 16-4 after 22 minutes.
A dropped ball off the kick off put the Knights in a lucrative position, which led to Pat Vaivai powering through a solid line of defenders to score again for the Knights. Mantellato converted to extend the Knights' lead to 22-4.
The Cutters came dangerously close on a number of occasions off the back of Knights errors, but the red and blue’s unrelenting defence halted all opportunities.
The Knights headed into the break with a 22-4 advantage.
It was a fierce start to the second half with a heated moment between two of the Mata’utia brothers which briefly halted play.
The Knights were looking hot, but a lack of ball control stoppded the momentum a number of times before hooker Chad Redman scooted over from dummy half in the 52nd minute.
Mantellato added the extras to see the Knights lead extend to 28-4.
The return of Vaivai and Mataora was defining in the second half with the two front rowers replicating the same tough football they offered earlier in the game.
After a dicey moment for the Knights with the Cutters sharp in attack, a dropped ball gave the Knights breathing space.
A precise kick from Dobson saw Chanel Mata’utia collect the ball and score close to the posts with Mantellato’s successful kick stretching the lead to 34 with 18 minute to go.
However, the Cutters fought back and stole an easy try with centre Tyrone Cranston diving over after a strong set.
The successful kick from Sam Duggan saw the score 34-10 in the 65th minute.
Play became increasingly unsettled with the ball turned over four times between the sides in a matter of minutes before the game came to a stand still resulting in the Knights coming up with a penalty.
Dobson was then forced from the field due to a foot injury. He will require scans on Monday before the extent of his injury is know.
The Cutters offered up some creative plays and plenty of offloads that had the Knights scrambling, but they were unable to exploit after a good deal of possession close to their line.
The Knights closed out the game maintaining the 34-10 lead, which has cemented the side a spot in the NSW Cup grand final next Sunday at Allianz Stadium.
Knights 34 (T: Mantellato 3, Vaivai, Redman, C Mata'utia, G: Dobson 2/3, Mantellato 3/3)
Cutters 10 (T: Daniela, Cranston, G: Stanley 0/1, Duggan 1/1)