STEP UP: Collegians veteran Jarrod Thompson expects Sunday’s major semi-final to be a step up on his side’s previous clashes with Thirroul. Picture: Robert Peet
story from: Illawarra Mercury
By: Mitch Jennings August 23 2019
The skipper in Collies’ 2013 grand final triumph, Thompson was also a key member of the club’s last premiership under current coach Nathan Fien in 2017.
The Dogs appeared even more ominous on paper last season, only to be bundled out the back door in the minor semi-final after failing to click through the year.
The implementation of a salary cap this season prompted Fien to look inward, putting a youthful contingent around the likes of Thompson, skipper Blake Phillips and key half Jarrod Boyle.
Promising signs came in claiming the pre-season VB Cup before some early teething issues in losses to Thirroul and Wests over the first round of the competition.
They’ve since avenged both those losses and will head into Sunday’s major semi-final clash with the Butchers on the longest winning streak in the league, their last defeat coming to Wests by a single point in round four.
It saw them finish equal top of the ladder and get first crack at a grand final berth, but Thompson said the early hiccups ultimately played in his side’s favour.
“We had that loss in round four and I think we’ve been building since then,” Thompson said.
“Fieny’s done a really good job keeping our heads where it needs to be at concentrating on ourselves. He’s done really well in that sense.
“We just let Wests and Thirroul run their dance and sitting in that third spot most of the year has been good for us, it took the pressure off and lets us focus on our own game.
“We always step up for those big occasions and putting those two wins together against Thrroul and Wests in the second round has done our confidence a world of good.”
Confidence is vital at finals time, but Thompson said Fien and the side’s veteran contingent hasn’t let it drift to complacency, with Sunday’s match the biggest step up for at least half the squad.
“It’s just good for the mind to know you can put those big teams away but once you get into the finals it’s a totally different ball game,” Thompson said.
“The intensity goes up 10 per cent, the runs are a bit harder, the tackles are a bit harder to make. We’re doing to best we can to prepare for the big collisions and the fast tempo game.
“Fieny’s done a really good job bringing what we need into the team and we’re definitely in that sense trying to play to our strengths.
“We’re not the biggest side on the paddock but we do play to our strengths which gets the results in the end. It’s what we’ll be looking to do on Sunday.”
While there’s always plenty at stake in the major, it’ll be doubly so this year, with reigning premiers Wests rested and waiting for the prelim final in a week’s time.
It’s not something either side will be giving too much thought to prior to Sunday’s kickoff but Thompson admits it certainly ups the ante.
“We don’t want to be doubling up our efforts a week later, we want to put everything into this game,” Thompson said.
“Hopefully we can come away with the bikkies because we know Wests are very dangerous. They’re the Melbourne Storm of this league, they’re always up there every year knocking on the door of that premiership.
“It’d be good to not have to play them the following week but we’re just going to come prepared for Thirroul on Sunday and match what they throw at us.
“Hopefully we can get the win and go onto the big dance and let them sort themselves out.”