St George Illawarra halfback-in-waiting Drew Hutchison has pulled all the strings as Illawarra thumped Burleigh 54-12 to take out the NRL Interstate Championship at ANZ Stadium.
The halfback staked an emphatic claim for the vacant Dragons halves spot in the 2017 NRL season, starring in the nine-tries-to-two defeat on Sunday.
The Cutters became the first NSW Cup champions to take the title in the three years of the concept, blitzing the listless and seemingly uninterested Queensland state champions.
When the Cutters burst out of the blocks for a 30-0 lead at halftime, the game was as good as over.
The Cutters’ little men, in particular Hutchison and hooker Josh McCrone, created havoc in the middle of the ruck and tore the Bears forwards to pieces, while their kicking game was excellent.
After prop Shannon Wakeman barged over, Hutchison sliced through some flimsy defence in the centre of the park to send Damian Sironen over to make it 12-0 after 22 minutes.
Hutchison was in everything as he staked a claim for the Dragons halfback spot left vacant because of Benji Marshal’s departure.
When Hutchison crossed for a controversial try after running behind teammate Taane Milne four minutes after the resumption, it killed off any hope of a Burleigh fightback.
The Bears were rarely in the game, coming up with simple errors and dropped ball and the few times they found themselves down Illawarra’s end they turned it over cheaply.
The Queensland Cup premiers suffered a blow during the week when captain Jamie Dowling wasn’t allowed to leave the state because of his conviction for drug offences, rubbing him out of the game.
Tries to Siliva Havili, Kurt Mann and Milne in the second half put an exclamation on Illawarra’s win.
Cutters five-eighth Shaun Nona suffered a knee injury six minutes from fulltime and was taken from the field.
The Bears scored late consolation tries through Josh Ailaomai and Kurtis Rowe.