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Match Report – 1st Grade Major Semi Final

Illawarra League: Devils seal saloon passage to decider

Mitch Jennings – Illawarra mercury

WESTS have booked the first ticket to the 2018 grand final, and made a huge statement doing it, with a 20-4 win over Thirroul in Sunday’s major semi-final.

Only for and against separated the traditional rivals at the end of the regular season, but the Devils looked a class above in the finals arena and will take some beating on the big day in a fortnight’s time.

The minor premiers came into the match amid questions over whether a lack of recent action would hamper their chances but produced an emphatic response, with coach Pete McLeod praising his side’s commited 80-minute effort.

“It was the best game we’ve played this year,” McLeod said.

“We went in with a plan, we stuck to the task and were really clinical in our execution. It was tight there for a long time in that first half but we stuck in and played for each other. We took our luck as well, some things went our way but we took advantage. 

“It was complete team effort, 1-17 they were outstanding. You go into every game to win and we went in with plenty of confidence. We’ll get the week off now and we’ll keep putting the work in. 

“I think our boys train harder than anyone else because they’re young, they love each other’s company and they rip-in. 

“A grand final’s a grand final, anything can happen, but the boys have given themselves every opportunity to this point with how hard they’ve worked. They’re young they’re hungry and they’ll take some beating, that’s for sure.” 

The Devils led 2-0 after a tense opening 35 minutes before skipper Mitch Porter snatched an intercept and dashed 80 metres for the first try of the match and an 8-0 halftime buffer.

It was a moment that turned the match, with Kyle Lodge barging over for a 14-0 lead just after the resumption. It was all Wests from there, with Luke Towers bagging a try from a Tony Pellow grubber as the combined kicking game of halves Justin Rodrigues and Zac Greene strangled the Butchers into submission down the stretch.

Michael Morris’ late four-pointer was pure consolation for the Butchers, with coach Jarrod Costello saying the Devils gave his side a lesson in finals football ahead of this Saturday’s prelim final against Dapto.

“They gave us a bit of a lesson, it was a final and they went to another level,” Costello said.

“I was pretty proud of how we defended in that opening 35 minutes. They had a lot of ball and we defended our line really well and then we went up the other end they got that intercept try. 

“I thought we were better than being down 8-0 at halftime but we started the second half with back to back errors, we gave them a repeat set and conceded a barge-over try off an offload.

“We were pretty good defensively, but you’ve got to execute a lot better than we did with the ball to win finals games.We’ll dust ourselves off and go again.

“We’re up against a rested Dapto side with plenty of experience. We’re going to have to be much better but we know what we’re still capable of.” 

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