The big question on everybody's lips heading into Saturday's Round 8 NSW Cup match against the Sharks was would the Western Suburbs Magpies be able win without their inspirational skipper Nathan Waters? With the Club Captain finally earning a well deserved call up to First Grade Leo Epifania had to call on Wests Tigers NYC half Liam Ayoub to steer the Magpies around the park. How the Black and Whites adjusted to having a debutante playmaker would go a long way to determining the final outcome of the match.
The Sharks had no such concerns, going into the game with a side boasting Scott Porter and Josh Lewis in the halves, former Magpie junior Stuart Flanagan at dummy half and Adam Cuthbertson in the engine room the team from the Shire had a wealth of NRL experience on call. When the Magpies conceded a penalty from the kick off and Cronulla was celebrating a soft try to Mat Munro only a few tackles later it seemed Western Suburbs' 4 game winning streak was in grave danger of coming to an end.
Cronulla were unable to take advantage of their flying start and the Magpies stand in skipper Rhys Pritchard took charge in the 8th min to even up the scores. The Magpies Winger slotted into first receiver on the 5th and put in a well weighted cross field kick for a leaping Andrew Everingham to outjump his opposite number and score. Geoff Daniella put the Magpies in front in the 23rd minute when he got outside his man and reached out to plant the ball next to the corner post. Chris Corby nailed a beautiful sideline conversion and Wests were starting to dominate.
The Sharks were starting to feel the frustration of a mounting error count and found themselves conceding penalties as they tried to slow the Magpies play the ball. The referee's patience ran out 5 minutes from the end of thee half and Cronulla found themselves down to 12 men. The Magpies weren't going to let the opportunity pass and when 5/8 Ben Falcone layed on a try for 2nd Rower Josh Davis in the final minute of the half Western Suburbs were very pleased to take a 16-6 lead to the break.
A Josh Lewis chip and chase led to the first points of the Second Half when his regather stretched the Magpies defence and earned a Mark Lennon try in the corner, but Wests shifted up a gear to put on the next three tries to put the game beyond the Sharks just when they looked like they might make a game of it.
A dropped ball on the 50 was picked up by Nu Akeripa and he was untroubled as he raced away to score under the posts. Just minutes later Ayoub tested a tiring Cuthbertson close to the line and the nippy half left the big man grasping at air as he skipped away to score. When Ayoub dropped a bomb right over Lennon's head for Pritchard to bring down for the four pointer the Magpies were home at 32-10 with just 15 minutes to play.
With nothing to lose the Sharks began to throw the ball around and it paid dividends with a couple of quick tries to Jamen McLeod and Flanagan to make it interesting at 32-22 with 5 to go. Wests ensured there was to be no miracle escape when Everingham bagged his double on the end of a sharp backline play to put the result beyond doubt.
Whilst the game didn't reach any great heights with both sides guilty of far too many errors, the Magpies were delighted to have ground out another win whilst missing important members of their Front Row rotation and without their half and skipper. Best for Wests were non-stop Lock Jamie Sharkey, powerhouse 2nd Rower Josh Davis, and Liam Ayoub who had a fine debut filling in for Waters.
Their 5th win on the trot lifted the Magpies to 2nd on the NSW Cup ladder. Next week Wests finally put their nomadic existence in 2010 behind them when they return to the newly renovated Campbelltown Stadium to take on Joint Venture partners Balmain in the next instalment of the fiercest rivalry in the NSW Cup. With Balmain just a single point ahead in 1st place on the table this promises to be one of the matches of the season.
Western Suburbs 36 (Everingham 2, Daniella, Davis, Akeripa, Ayoub, Pritchard; Corby 2, Sharkey 2 goals) d Cronulla 22 (Munro, Lennon, McLeod, Flanagan: Lewis 3 goals)