Northern Pride laid down an early marker before the 2014 Intrust Super Cup finals with a 30-6 win over rivals Ipswich Jets at The Jungle in Cairns on Saturday night.
In their last regular season home game, minor premiers Pride were made to work hard for their win over Ipswich, the only side they had previously not beaten in 2014.
Ipswich, one of only three sides to beat the Pride this year with a 24-18 win in Round 8, produced a brave defensive display to go in at 6-6 at the interval.
But the Pride came out a different side in the second stanza, posting four further tries in a dominant display to run out comfortable winners.
Both sides, with Pride top of the ladder and Ipswich in the fifth and last finals spot, started strongly, with high completion rates.
But the deadlock was eventually broken on 19 minutes, and it was yet again Pride’s NRL-bound connection on the left edge which did the damage.
Five-eighth Shaun Nona, signed to the Melbourne Storm for 2015, produced a sublime short pass to Blake Leary, and the Manly-signed backrower did the rest.
Six minutes later both sides were reduced to 12 men as Pride’s Hezron Murgha and Jets captain Kieron Lander were both sinbinned after a scuffle.
And it was the Jets who coped better with one man down, as powerful Fijian centre Nemani Valekapa took advantage of some sloppy Pride defence to crash over and make it 6-6.
Pride came out with much more purpose in the second half, and were rewarded four minutes after the restart when Javid Bowen took advantage of a superb Nona long pass to cut inside and cross the tryline.
The hosts further extended their advantage to 14-6 with two Nona penalty goals after dangerous tackles on Ryan Ghietti and debutant Patrick Kaufusi.
Ipswich bravely battled on, but the floodgates opened with 12 minutes left, Murgha with a brilliant burst to cross on the right edge.
Pride co-captain Jason Roos soon crossed after a superb dummy from five metres out, before Davin Crampton rounded off the win with an intercept try just before the siren.
The Jets’ misery was compounded with Wes Conlon also sent to the bin late on after another on-field melee.
For the Pride, it was their 20th win in 23 games this year, while Ipswich will be nervously looking over the shoulder at the in-form PNG Hunters.
NORTHERN PRIDE 30 (Hezron Murgha, Jason Roos, Blake Leary, Davin Crampton, Javid Bowen tries; Shaun Nona 5 goals) def IPSWICH JETS 6 (Nemani Valekapa try; Wes Conlon goal) at Barlow Park.
Northern Pride: 1. Hezron Murgha 18. Javid Bowen 3. Brett Anderson (c) 20. Ethan Lowe 5. Semi Tadulala 6. Shaun Nona 7. Sam Obst 8. Ricky Thorby 9. Jason Roos (c) 10. Jack Svendsen 11. Blake Leary 12. Tyrone McCarthy 13. Davin Crampton 14. Ryan Ghietti 15. Tom Hancock 22. Patrick Kaufusi 17. Sheldon Powe-Hobbs
Ipswich Jets: 1. Javarn White 2. Kurt Capewell 3. Nemani Valekapa 20. Landon Hayes 5. Carlin Anderson 6. Josh Cleeland 7. Dane Phillips 8. Kurtis Lingwoodock 9. Troy O`Sullivan 10. Rod Griffin 11. Joshua Seage 12. Sam Martin 13. Keiron Lander (c) 14. Billy McConnachie 18. Ben White 19. Wes Conlon 22. Matt Parcell