The Newcastle representative cricket side will play St George next Sunday for a place in the NSW Premier Twenty20 Cup finals after two impressive victories at No.1 Sportsground on Sunday.
Newcastle beat Gordon, who are second on the Sydney district cricket ladder, on Sunday morning then crushed North Sydney by 10 wickets in the afternoon.
The Steel now boast two wins out of three and are likely to repeat their conference semi-final showing from last year if they knock over St George in their final-round game at Hurstville Oval this weekend.
They are fifth on the 12-team conference ladder, level on two wins with four other teams but narrowly behind fourth-placed Randwick-Petersham on quotient. Mosman are the only side with three victories.
Newcastle restricted Gordon to 9-127 then passed the total with four balls and four wickets to spare.
Pat Darwen backed up his century for Merewether the day before with 3-23 off three overs then a run-a-ball 29.
Sam Webber (1-25 and 21 off 16 balls), James Rushford (28 off 23) and spinner Nick Foster (1-18) were also instrumental in the victory.
The hosts then dominated North Sydney, holding them to 7-109 before openers Joe Price (67 off 47 with three sixes) and James Rushford (41 off 41) reached the target in the 15th over.
Foster, Darwen, Price, Webber and Ray Cooper shared the wickets in North Sydney’s innings, and none of them conceded more than five runs an over.
Captain Mark Littlewood, who made a hundred for Belmont on Saturday, was delighted his side had stayed alive in the competition.
“That was outstanding today. Very happy,” he said.
Newcastle have played in the NSW Premier T20 for four years, reaching the conference semi-finals last year against eventual champions Randwick-Petersham, but the Steel players still clearly enjoy demonstrating that they can more than match it with their Sydney rivals.
“I’d like to think now we’ve earned a bit of respect. I guess a few sides are talking about us,” Littlewood said.
“It’s a long bus trip [from Sydney] – it’s not easy – but it’s certainly always nice to take them down a peg, I guess.”
Littlewood said local knowledge played a part in their success at No.1.
“It’s a tricky ground in a T20 being so large. There’s lots of twos and it’s hard to hit sixes on.”
St George, who have two wins from two, play sixth-placed Sutherland on Sunday morning then Newcastle in the afternoon.
Meanwhile, Newcastle’s poor record in the Country Cup continued on Sunday when an understrength Merewether lost in the third round to Terrigal at Townson Oval.
The home side were missing a host of first-graders, including Simon Moore, Pat Darwen, Dan Morton, Troy Goodwin, Trent Bush and Tim O’Neill, and fell 24 runs short of Terrigal’s 195.
Opener Ollie Twyford made 71 for the visitors as David Celep took 3-37. Josh Emerton (60) and Celep (30) had Merewether in a strong position at 2-59 off 11 overs, but the middle and lower order struggled against some tight bowling before the innings ended on 171 in the 46th over.
The defeat ended another disappointing campaign for Newcastle clubs in the competition. Waratah-Mayfield, who lost to Tamworth three weeks ago, were the only other NDCA side to make it past round two.
No Newcastle clubs have reached the Country Cup quarter-finals since joining the competition when the SCG Country Cup ended two years ago.
Merewether reached round three last year but lost to Lisarow.