ILLAWARRA RUGBY LEAGUE
Wests co-captain Matt Clarke has revealed the secret formula for his side's rousing finals run.
And it turns out that the reasons behind the Devils' better-late-than-never revival are really quite simple.
"We're just running harder and tackling harder than we were five weeks ago," Clarke said.
"It's definitely been a different feel since the finals have started."
The Devils stumbled into the play-offs with five losses in their last six regular season games, including a heavy home defeat at the hands of Collegians in the final round.
The club was also hampered by inner turmoil after captain-coach Reece Simmonds was stood down two weeks out from the play-offs.
But just when it seemed the 2009, '10 and '11 premiers were a spent force, they knocked out Shellharbour in the first week of the finals and backed up with an even more polished performance in last week's minor semifinal victory over titleholders Thirroul.
Tomorrow they are aiming for their third consecutive sudden-death triumph when they meet Helensburgh in the final at Collegians Sports Centre.
The winner will square off with Collies in next Sunday's grand final at WIN Stadium.
"We've been sticking together solid through all the dramas and we're just playing for each other at the moment," Clarke said.
"Everyone's accountable for what they do on the field, and if you're not doing your job you're letting your mates down. That's the way we're looking at it, that we don't want to let our mates down."
All the pre-finals talk that the Devils would be the first team to exit the finals didn't go unnoticed by the players.
"The motivation to win is obviously there more than anything else, but there's certainly an element of wanting to get out there and show people who wrote us off five weeks ago when we weren't winning, that we are the Wests of old still," Clarke said.
"We've got that fight in us and we do know how to win. There's a little bit of change there, but we've basically kept the same things we were doing. Reece obviously had his own style, but [coach] Brad's [Reh] come in and changed a few little things."
If nothing else, the Devils have made a mockery of the theory about teams needing winning momentum heading into the post-season.
Clarke said the run of losses at the back end of the season instilled a sense of urgency in his team.
"The first week of the semis, if we lost we were gone, so we've really switched on," the 31-year-old hooker said.
"It's must-win every game so we're treating every game as a grand final and it's working for us.
"Everyone's been really keen and confident that we could win the games we've played so far and this week's no different. We're going in it to win it."
Wests beat Helensburgh 28-6 in round four before the Tigers squared the ledger with a 42-32 win in round 11.
"Helensburgh are obviously a good team but we're quietly confident," Clarke said.