The Imagetec Central Coast Rays will play host to the Perth Spirit in the Mazda Australian Rugby Championship semifinals after routing the Sydney Fleet 55 points to 19 at Bluetongue Central Coast Stadium.
Peter Hewat was outstanding as the Rays ran in eight tries to the Fleet’s three, the fullback finishing with 20 points through a try, six conversions and a penalty goal.
He also played a leading hand in the first of Sam Norton-Knight’s two tries for the afternoon, while Ben Jacobs also finished with a double for the home side.
The Rays found themselves on the back foot early as scrumhalf Brett Sheehan was handed a yellow card for back chat in just the eighth minute of the match.
Being down a man would ultimately prove no barrier with Beau Robinson sprinting the Rays into the lead with a try as Sheehan was coming back onto the field.
Hewat converted from in front for a seven-nil lead after 20 minutes.
Hewat was in the thick of the action again six minutes later as he helped to lay on the Rays second try.
Fielding a kick on his own ten metre line Hewat chipped and regathered before firing an inside ball which was brilliantly picked up off his toes by flanker Ross Duncan.
Duncan in turn found Norton-Knight unmarked, the flyhalf touching down for his sixth try in as many matches to take the Rays out to a 14-nil lead.
The Rays had the Fleet on the rack and would soon increase their advantage, Jacobs scoring just 90 seconds after Norton-Knight to stretch the home side’s lead to 19 points.
It was all going the Rays way and when Norton-Knight crossed again in the 31st minute they had already secured themselves a bonus point, Hewat converting for a 26-nil lead.
Daniel Halangahu kept the Fleet’s hopes alive with a try six minutes out from the break, stepping hard off his left foot to touch down out wide.
Gavin Debartolo converted to see the Fleet trail by 19 once again.
However the joy would prove short lived with Rays wing Andrew Smith standing up the defence to score, making the score 31-7 in favour of the Rays at the break.
The procession continued for the Rays after the resumption, Jacobs scoring off an intercept six minutes into the second half to see the home side lead by 38 points to 7.
Four minutes later Jye Mullane crossed for an easy try and a 45-7 scoreline.
Morgan Turinui pegged one back for the visitors with 14 minutes left on the clock, while Hewat added a penalty with 10 remaining.
The Fleet’s scoring was rounded out by a 73rd minute try to Laurie Weeks, while Hewat capped a man of the match winning performance with one of his own a minute later.
The bonus point victory sees the Rays finish the season in second position on 26 competition points, just one point behind minor premiers Western Sydney.
They will now play the Spirit at Bluetongue Central Coast Stadium at 3pm next Saturday for a place in the Mazda ARC Final.
The Fleet finish in fifth position with four wins and four losses to their names for the season.
MAZDA AUSTRALIAN RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP – WEEK EIGHT
IMAGETEC CENTRAL COAST RAYS 55
Tries: Sam Norton-Knight 2, Ben Jacobs 2, Beau Robinson, Andrew Smith, Jye Mullane, Peter Hewat
Conversions: Peter Hewat 6/8
Penalty Goals: Peter Hewat 1/1
SYDNEY FLEET 19
Tries: Daniel Halangahu, Morgan Turinui, Laurie Weeks
Conversions: Gavin Debartolo 1/1, Daniel Halangahu 1/2
At Bluetongue Central Coast Stadium, Gosford
Half Time: Rays 31-7
Man of the Match: Peter Hewat (Rays)
Referee: Nathan Pearce