PERTH, Feb 28 AAP - New South Wales' ambitions of making the Pura Cup cricket final lifted dramatically today as it moved towards outright points over Western Australia at the WACA Ground.
WA was still in deep trouble at 3-216 in its second innings, despite a spirited unbeaten fourth wicket stand of 140 between Chris Rogers (89) and Marcus North (69).
The Warriors still needed another 92 runs to make the Blues bat again at the end of the second day.
And with second-placed Victoria struggling against Queensland at the Gabba, the Blues are on track to be equal points with the Bushrangers heading into the final round.
The star-studded Blues are peaking at the business end of the season and look in ominous shape after securing the ING Cup trophy last Sunday.
NSW host Queensland next week while Victoria play the Warriors at the MCG in what looks likely to decide the Bulls' opponents for the final starting March 14.
The Blues totally outclassed WA with some tight bowling and outstanding catching today while some undisciplined batting from the home side only aided the visitors' cause.
Resuming at 3-353, Steve Waugh closed the Blues' first dig at 8(dec)-418 before dismissing the home team for a paltry 110.
WA's opening reply started disastrously, slumping to 3-28 at lunch after wicketkeeper Brad Haddin's spectacular catch to dismiss Murray Goodwin (2) and captain Justin Langer's (22) reckless stroke against burly Don Nash.
The Test opener had hit a four over point the previous delivery and was attempting the same shot which flew into the safe hands of Mark Waugh in slips in the final ball of the session.
Steve Waugh's decision to bring on rarely-used medium pacer Greg Mail (4-18) proved an inspired one.
The 28-year-old right-armer further stamped his mark on the match, backing up his 90 in the first innings with a four-wicket haul from just 6.1 overs.
Mail had only bowled 15 overs in 26 first class outings before today, taking just two wickets for 51 runs.
However his gentle out-swingers troubled WA after Stuart Clark (3-38) and Nash (2-28) had ripped through the top order.
Forced to follow-on, Langer (33) came out in a hurry with his first seven scoring shots all boundaries in the second innings.
But the left-hander again fell to NSW left-armer Doug Bollinger (2-36), who Waugh hinted before the match had the wood on the 59-Test veteran.
Murray Goodwin (4) exited soon after but not before swinging his bat in disgust at his stumps after playing on to a Nash (1-8) delivery.
ACB-contracted batsman Michael Hussey (12) continued a disappointing summer by feathering a catch down the leg side to Haddin for Bollinger's second.
However Rogers and North's partnership handed WA a glimmer of hope at the end of an otherwise ordinary day for the Warriors.