Original story – Gutsy Devils tackle their way to 2018 title
Mitch Jennings – Illawarra Mercury
THEY looked no chance of losing, then no chance of holding on, but Wests found enough to hold off Thirroul 18-16 to claim their first Illawarra League crown in eight seasons on Sunday.
Having enjoyed the week off leading in, the Devils ran in four first-half tries to lead 18-0 at the break before a second-half fightback saw the Butchers get within two with 18 minutes to play.
It was a momentum wave that appeared unstoppable, but Wests did just that, repelling countless attacking raids down the stretch to claim a breakthrough title in their third decider in the last four seasons.
They did it the hard way, but coach Pete McLeod said he’s coached enough finals games against the Butchers to know his side was never going to cruise to victory despite a handy halftime buffer.
“It was never going to be easy, we knew that,” McLeod said.
“We had an outstanding first half but we spoke at halftime about the type of club and side Thirroul are. I said ‘they’re going to play 80 minutes here, we’re going to need to defend our line to win the game’.
“With 10 to go they could’ve given it up but they didn’t they stood their ground. I’m just so proud of them. It was never going to be effort that let them down.
“There were a few big plays at the back end from our experienced blokes, [Glenn] Stewart, [Luke] Towers, [Mitch] Porter, they really stood up when it mattered.”
Having himself come through the lower grades as a coach, McLeod said taking local juniors along for the ride made the win all the more satisfying.
“A lot gets said about Wests but we had eight local juniors play today so, to prove a point they way they did, I’m really proud of them,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot to do with a lot of these blokes over a long time, in the lower grades and as a [first grade] assistant. We haven’t got here and won since 2011 so I just couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Porter got the first half blitz underway in just the fourth minute, breaking through from his own half and leaving three cover defenders in his wake to score in the corner.