RUGBY LEAGUE – ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
He’s played in plenty of football teams over his career but Thirroul captain Nathan Fien says none have been gutsier than the 2014 Butchers after they edged out northern rivals Helensburgh in an 18-16 grand final epic at WIN Stadium on Sunday.
As has been the case all year, the Butchers did it the hard way withstanding a relentless second-half assault from the Tigers as they clung to a two-point lead for the final 28 minutes of the match.
Fien said it was a “gutsy” win that told the story of the Butchers’ season.
“I knew we had it in us. That’s what we’ve been doing all year, we’ve been able to grind out footy games,” Fien said.
“We knew we weren’t a football side that was going to blow anyone off the park through the middle, we just grind and work hard for each other and that’s exactly what we did again today.
“Hats off to the Helensburgh boys, we’ve had some tremendous battles with them this year, and they kept coming at us like they have done all year.”
A scoring blitz either side of half-time ultimately got the Butchers home after they led 6-0 on the back of a Pat Franks try in the 10th minute.
The Tigers hit back minutes later when five-eighth Jarrod Boyle stepped his way across to level-up at 6-all before a Rhian Gerard try 10 minutes before the break gave the Tigers their only lead of the match at 10-6.
After absorbing the Tigers’ onslaught at the other end, the Butchers took the lead just two minutes before half-time when a deft Sam Clune pass allowed Damien Blanch to score in the right-hand corner. Reece Jaeger nailed what proved a crucial sideline conversion to take a 12-10 lead to the break.
Clune scored eight minutes after the resumption following a break from Nathan Wynn, whose injection from the bench midway through the first half sparked the Butchers, to extend the lead to 18-10.
Unwilling to lay down, the Tigers drew back within two points just four minutes later when Blake Phillips carried four defenders across the line in a determined effort that put the match back on a knife edge at 18-16.
Despite a weight of possession and field position being in their favour, Helensburgh couldn’t breach the blue and white wall to land the killer blow in a loss which leaves the Tigers licking the wounds of a third grand final defeat in four years.
“In the first half we didn’t have a lot of field position and they just kept completing sets down our end of the field,” Fien said.
“But we hung in deep and when we got our opportunities we were able to create a few chances and we got across the line.
“We started the second half really well and I thought we were probably going to go on with it but you just can’t put that Helensburgh side away.
“They forced errors on us and we couldn’t get into our groove but we got there in the end.”