RUGBY LEAGUE - ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Thirroul sounded a warning to their Illawarra Coal League rivals with a gritty 12-8 win over defending premiers Collegians at a waterlogged Collegians Sports Centre on Sunday.
A try to Reece Jaeger with under five minutes to play sealed the win for the Butchers after the match was locked 8-all heading into the final stages.
It was Jaeger who first put the Butchers in front 8-6 after kicking a 30-metre penalty goal out of a mid-pitch quagmire with 12 minutes to play, only for Collies five-eighth Sam Duggan to level up with a penalty of his own minutes later and send the game down to the wire.
Captain-coach Nathan Fien, who celebrated his Coal League debut with a try in 30th minute, praised his side's goal-line defence after the Butchers repelled countless raids from the premiers to grind out the victory.
"It was just one of those games that was going be a slugfest," Fien said.
"Our defence today was pretty good, especially that goal-line defence in the first half.
"They were camped on our line there for probably 15-20 minutes early on and we couldn't get out.
"We made a couple of errors but we got there in the end, we hung in there which is what it's all about.
It was the only game of the weekend after the league's two other fixtures were washed out and the two sides put on a match befitting centre stage despite the wet conditions.
Collegians also 'manned up' admirably in a game dominated by defence that wouldn't have left any spectators feeling short-changed, despite the low score.
The Butchers enjoyed most of the early ball and fullback Sam Clune came close to opening the scoring after 11 minutes when he won the race to a Fien banana kick in the Collegians in-goal but couldn't handle the ball.
Possession soon swung dramatically with Collies mounting a relentless assault on the Butchers' try-line.
They finally crossed after 24 minutes through Tyron Cranston only to be called back for a forward pass.
Having withstood so much defensive pressure, the Butchers opened the scoring after 30 minutes when Fien finished off a clever exchange of passing to score next to the posts for a 6-0 lead at the half-time break.
Collies again enjoyed the bulk of field position early in the second half and looked certain to score in the 20th minute when Cranston crossed in the right hand corner only for a desperate covering tackle from Pat Franks to deny him again and force a line dropout.
From the ensuing dropout, the pressure told when fullback Kyle Eather scored off a beautiful pass from five-eighth Sam Duggan who added the extras to lock the game up at 6-all.
As momentum appeared to be turning towards the home side and a penalty 30 metres out from the posts saw Jaeger put the Butchers ahead 8-6 with 12 minutes to play.
A mistake from the kickoff gave Collies the opportunity to hit back, and a clever run from hooker Jimmy Storer drew a penalty and gave Duggan the chance to equalise, which he did with 10 minutes to play.
Collies coughed up possession from the kickoff and handed the Butchers their best attacking opportunity of the half.
After a clever grubber from Fein at dummy half forced a line dropout, the Butchers took advantage of five-eighth Jake Walsh putting a perfectly-weighted kick into the Collegians in-goal for Jaeger the score the match-winner. The ball was touched down only inches inside the chalk.
Jaeger missed the conversion (to extend the margin to an unassailable eight points) but the Butchers were able to grind out to an impressive first-up victory.
'Dumb' footy costs Collies
COLLEGIANS coach Reece Simmonds conceded his side played ‘‘dumb’’ football in their 12-6 opening round loss to Thirroul on Sunday.
Wet weather and ware from earlier lower grade games left the Collegians Oval pitch a quagmire for the main game.
The premiers had the bulk of possession in the first half but weren’t able to score - often spilling the final pass.
Winger Tyron Cranston crossed twice only to be denied by a forward pass in the first half and desperate cover defence midway through the second.
The Dogs also looked likely to back up Kyle Eather’s try midway through the half only for halfback Scott Rosser to fumble a pass from Charlie Faingaa.
Simmonds said the Butchers played better wet weather football.
‘‘We played very dumb considering the conditions.
‘‘We completed 33per cent in the first half and we made it too tough for ourselves.
‘‘Their completions were right up there and ours were crap – 33per cent... you’re not going to win a game of footy like that in this comp.
‘‘The teams have all improved and you need to be a lot better than that.’’
Simmonds refused to blame the conditions.
‘‘The conditions made it tough but we didn’t adapt to the conditions as good as they did and that told the tale in the end,’’ he said.
‘‘They had a lot of ball on our line, at one point we didn’t complete six sets in a row and we held them out and took them six sets to get a try on us.’’