By ADAM WRATTEN
TWEED Heads Seagulls crushed Cudgen 40-24 yesterday to confirm their standing as one of the favourites for this year's Northern Rivers rugby league competition.
Winger Nat Barnes ran in three tries during a second-half onslaught as the Seagulls ripped apart the Hornets at Ned Byrne Field.
"They absolutely smashed us in the second half," Cudgen coach Jamie Mathiou said.
The victory leaves Sea-gulls, on seven points, alongside Murwillumbah and Ballina as the only unbeaten teams left in the 13-team competition.
The first half of yester-day's game was a tight, physical encounter and provided no indication of what was to come.
Cudgen led at the break 14-8.
But Barnes and his teammates exploded into action in the second half, racing in six unanwsered tries before Cudgen got two consolation tries in the dying minutes.
"It had been talked up all week as a big game," Barnes said.
"It was good to get out there and win.
"We started slow in the first half, but picked up in the second. It feels great. Cudgen have got a lot of good players there and they will be strong."
Seagulls coach Troy McCarthy was happy with his side's performance but warned they would have to improve if they wished to challenge for the premiership.
"It's defence we have to get right. Until we do that we are not a force in this comp," he said
Mathiou would disagree.
"They were outstanding," he said.
Seagulls coach Troy McCarthy said set completion was the key to the second-half blitz.
"There's plenty of firepower there," said McCarthy of a Seagulls side that has scored more than 160 points in its first three games in the competition.
"It's defence we have to get right. Until we do that we are not a force in this comp."
Cudgen coach Jamie Mathiou would disagree.
"They were outstanding," Mathiou said. "We were disappointing, we just didn't compete in the second half.
"There was too much one-off stuff from us, you have to work hard to make it happen and we are not doing that at the moment."
Seagulls opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the game when second-rower Scott Grey crossed after good work from centre Graeme Jeffries.
Cudgen struck back quickly with tries to Andrew King, who pounced on a Troy Dickinovski grubber, and then Joe Prichard who finished off a neat move to score close to the posts.
A Mykel Hema try mid-way through the half brought the sides close again before Cudgen's Steve O'Keith scored a barnstorming try just before the break.
Seagulls centre Jay McDermott opened the scoring in the second half after just two min- utes and then Barnes took over, scoring three of the game's next four tries to have Seagulls firmly in the control leading 34-14. Halfback Daniel Evans scoring the other try.
McDermott added his second before Cudgen's Craig Thurston scored two late tries.
SEAGULLS 40 (N Barnes (3), J McDermott (2), S Grey, M Hema, D Evans tries, N Barnes (3) goals) d CUDGEN 24 (C Thurston (2), A King, J Prichard, S O'Keith tries, C Thurston (2) goals).
RESERVES: Seagulls 22 d Cudgen 16. UNDER-18: Seagulls 38 d Cudgen 0.