ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Helensburgh coach Ben Haran highlighted his side’s unshakeable mateship after the Tigers ended Wests’ fairytale run with a 25-4 victory in Sunday’s final at Collegians Sports Centre.
Trailing 4-0 midway through the first half, the Burgh patiently and purposefully asserted themselves, scoring 25 unanswered points to book a premiership showdown with Collegians.
After blowing a match-winning lead in the closing minutes of the previous week’s major semifinal against Collies, the Tigers erased any question marks about their mental toughness.
Importantly, they also showed off a near-impregnable defensive armoury against a side which ran up 60 points on the Burgh in two regular-season meetings.
‘‘The way you defend is what you pride yourselves in,’’ Haran said.
‘‘When we were behind at the start, we just said ‘that’s it, no more tries for them’, and the boys all bought into it and got the job done.
‘‘When you’ve got a team full of mates that want to win for each other, it goes a long way, and Helensburgh certainly have that.’’
Five-eighth Clint Wright scored what turned out to be the Devils’ only try after pouncing on a spilled grubber in the 17th minute.
Helensburgh responded with backrower Blake Phillips’ try from a bomb, while winger Wayne Bremner showcased his athleticism with a diving try in the right corner to give his team a 10-4 half-time lead.
The Tigers stretched the margin to 12 points with Khan Salamalikis’s try and all but put the result beyond doubt with five-eighth Jarrod Boyle’s try, also from a well-placed bomb.
The Devils didn’t help their cause with too many errors, but they were nearly always met by two or three defenders and rarely broke the first line.
Helensburgh completed the scoring with Hayden McCrea’s penalty goal and a field goal to Boyle.
‘‘Our guys executed our game plan to a tee and we just showed that we were a better side than Wests today and we wanted it more than them,’’ Haran said.
‘‘We’ve come a long way as a footy team and we were just too good for them today.
‘‘There’s a few little things we can pick up and a few of those errors came at the back end of the game, but we still completed good in the first half and we just showed that belief in each other.’’
The Tigers will be aiming for their first premiership in 20 years on Sunday. The club will also be represented in reserve grade and the Ladies League grand final.
‘‘It’s going to be a great day for Helensburgh. If you’re a thief, it’d probably be a good day to rob a house in the Burgh,’’ Haran said.
‘‘I said to the boys that we get our crack at revenge [at Collies], and there’s nothing sweeter than revenge.’’
Tigers captain Steve McCallum left the field with 28 minutes remaining after copping a high shot and didn’t return.
‘‘He got a knock on the head. We probably could’ve out him back on the field, but we don’t want to put anyone at risk,’’ Haran said.
‘‘He’ll be fine to play next week.’’
The Tigers celebrated last night before shifting their focus to the premiership decider.
‘‘It’s not very often you get through to play in a grand final, so it’s important that the boys enjoy themselves - which they do well - before we start preparations for next Sunday,’’ Haran said.
The Devils probably over-achieved considering their horrible late-season form.
They powered through sudden death finals against Shellharbour and Thirroul but found the Tigers too hard to tame.
‘‘We knew we had to start well to go with Helensburgh but we couldn’t keep it up for the full 80 minutes,’’ co-captain Matt Clarke said.
‘‘We gave them easy piggy backs out of their own end and you can’t win semifinals like that. You can’t keep defending against a good side.
‘‘They’re a good team and I wish them all the best next week.
‘‘We weren’t expected to get this far but we all stuck together. It’s too bad we couldn’t go all the way, but there’s always next year.’’
Wests downed Thirroul 32-8 in reserve grade and Norths beat Helensburgh 24-18 in Coal Shield.
Wests defeated Dapto 30-26 in extra time in the under 18 final, while Corrimal prevailed 12-6 over Wests in Ladies League.
Grand final draw at WIN Stadium on Sunday:
First grade: Collies v Helensburgh
Reserve grade: Helensburgh v Wests
Coal Shield: Corrimal v Norths
Under 18: Shellharbour v Wests
Ladies League: Helensburgh v Corrimal