They went in as competition leaders but Illawarra copped major reality check on Saturday, conceding seven tries in a heavy loss to North Sydney in Wollongong.
In steamy conditions, the Steelers were were their own worst enemy, barely able to complete a set following Rose Tafengatoto's try just nine minutes in.
A game defensive effort saw them concede just two further tries to trail 14-6 at the break, but the time without the footy took its toll in the second half as the Bears ran in four tries down the stretch.
The scoreline could have looked uglier but for Bears star Kirra Dibb's off day with the tee, booting just two goals from seven attempts.
The loss came in the absence of Jillaroos stars Kezie Apps and Emma Tonegato, but coach Alicia-Kate Hawke said they'd have made little impact with such lopsided possession.
"It felt like we didn't even have 50 per cent completions in the first half, and most [errors] came on tackle one," Hawke said.
"There's not much you can do when you don't even get one tackle out of a set. I don't know if it as nerves or over-thinking early on, but even things like our simple catch-pass that aren't our normal errors crept in.
"There was a patch in the second half where we were going set for set with them and I'm not sure the girls realised they were about to break them.
"As we were building that pressure we'd turn the ball over and release that. Against a quality side like that it's not something you can be doing.
"They had a few set plays that we'd looked at and we managed to shut them down initially, you just can't do that for a whole game when they're coming at you with such quality."
A try from dummy-half to skipper Keeley Davis put the hosts right back in it at 14-12, and they still had a sniff down 18-12 with 15 minutes to play before the Bears found another gear.
The loss will pull them back into finals squeeze, with Hawke disappointed to see the score run-up in a competition where for-and-against is almost certain to determine finals spots.
"In this competition we can't just keep saying 'next time, next time' because there just won't be that many," Hawke said.
"The other part of it is we know how important points [for and against] are, so to completely switch off at the end and let that many tries in late was disappointing."
Defeat in the Women's clash was the only blemish on an otherwise dominant day for the Steelers at Collegians that saw the club notch wins in Lisa Fiaola (24-22), Harold Matthews (50-6), Tarsha Gale (24-10) and SG Ball (32-20) Cups.
The Steelers led the the SG Ball clash 24-6 at halftime after a dominant opening stanza, though they were out-scored 16-6 in a sluggish second stanza.
It made it back to back to wins for the first time this season, but coach Russ Aitken was disappointed with the second-half fade-out.
"I thought in the first half we were building nicely, we completed at 87 per cent and we were starting to crack them," Aitken said.
"Then in the second half we went away from everything we were doing well and what we know works for us. The score reflected that.
"The boys were disappointed in the second half but we got a win and we stay alive but there's a lot to work coming to Canberra [next weekend]."
The unbeaten Raiders will pose a challenge but, having run a number of the big guns close this campaign, Aitken says his side will relish the opportunity to claim a breakthrough major scalp.
"We're obviously in a bottleneck there for the finals and Canberra's a really good test for our boys to come up against the top team who haven't lost," Aitken said.
"We lost to Penrith by two at the death, against Parra we didn't give ourselves a chance [early] but dominated for large parts and we've had a draw with the Roosters.
"They're probably the better teams we've come up against and we've been in every single one. Hopefully we take the first half of today's performance into it and that'll give us a good crack next week."
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