Story from Illawarra Mercury
By: Mitch Jennings May 31 2019
Last year’s grand finalists will head into the clash undefeated and joint competition leaders, with the Butchers on top of the ladder on for and against.
It puts a vital two points on the line for the hosts, with the return clash scheduled for Parrish Park in the penultimate round of the regular season.
Coach Jarrod Costello said his side is determined to land the first blow in what’s already shaping as a finals preview.
“It’s a really important two points,” Costello said.
“Whoever can win this week will go a long way to giving themselves a really good shot at finishing in the top two. The side that doesn’t isn’t out of the race by any means, it’s just important we keep getting better each week and [winning] at home’s important for us.
“Wests have been great. They had a tight one [against Collegians] and they’ve been really good the last couple. They had a lot of points against Corrimal last week and they look sharp.
“We’ve been pretty similar, we had a tight one in our first game as well and then a couple of scorelines that have blown out at the end. It’s not to say they weren’t hard games but certainly both sides are looking pretty good before Saturday.”
It will be the first time the league heavyweights have met since last year’s decider won 18-16 by the Devils. Both clubs have seen a turnover in their respective rosters, though core players still remain.
For Costello it’s meant running out a rejigged spine but he’s happy with how his side have clicked over the opening five weeks.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who’ve come back again and we’re a similar side to last year but we’ve got a couple of new players in key positions,” Costello said.
“We’ve got a guy in Ryan Fletcher at six who’s normally a nine but he’s a really good footballer and picks up shapes and any sort of game plan pretty quickly. Blake Higgins is the same at the back, he’s normally a seven but he’s picked things up really well.
“The other new guys like Jay Gallahger, Damian Sironen, Wayne Dargan are all really good footballers and pick up things pretty quickly as well so I’ve been pretty fortunate there.”
The change in personnel also means last year’s decider hasn’t been a topic of discussion at Gibbo Park this week.
“We haven’t spoken about it as a grand final rematch,” he said.
“We’ve spoken about how important it is but we haven’t referred back to the grand final at all. If it motivates them that’s great but hopefully it doesn’t take that to get them motivated.
“Hopefully they’re motivated for this year and to get a win at home over Wests. There’s no doubt individually there’ll be some guys who look back on it but it’s not something we’ve gone into as a team.
“It was quite a few months ago now so it’s about moving on for us now and being better in 2019. We’re both on top of the ladder together, we’re both yet to be beaten, so for us it’s just a really big game we’re really excited about.”
Wests have been dealt a blow in the lead-up to the clash, with star forward Dylan Lauri rubbed out after entering a guilty plea to a downgraded dangerous contact charge.
Lauri was sent off in the Devils’ 11-10 win over Collegians a fortnight ago and was initially hit with a high grade kicking charge. Wests successfully fought the charge at the judiciary but Lauri was then slapped with a high grade dangerous contact charge.
The Devils were granted a stay of proceedings, allowing Lauri to feature against Corrimal last week, before the matter was referred back to the judiciary on Wednesday.
Wests successfully sought a downgrade that will see Lauri miss three matches after initially facing a five-week stint on the sidelines.
Elsewhere on Saturday Corrimal host Collegians while last-start winners Berkeley head to Rex Jackson Oval to take on Helensburgh.