ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
A desperate last-ditch defensive effort from stand-in Helensburgh fullback Wayne Bremner sealed a thrilling 8-4 victory over Wests at Rex Jackson Oval on Saturday.
Bremner’s desperate effort to deny runaway Wests centre Zac Hill and protect the Tigers’ slender 6-4 lead proved the crucial moment in a match that was always going to come down to one big play.
Hill looked certain to score the match-winner after streaking away down the left edge in the shadows of full-time, only for Bremner to dislodge the ball and save a certain try.
The match ended with one try apiece, but no-one walked away short-changed as both sides put on a spectacle befitting their No 1 and No 2 spots on the ladder.
Helensburgh coach Ryan Powell couldn’t hide his delight at full-time after his side held off a Devils onslaught late in the match to cement top spot.
‘‘I’m still not sure how Brem [Bremner] stopped that try,’’ Powell said.
‘‘That game had a bit of everything in it and it was anyone’s game right up until the final whistle.’’
The Tigers showed a lot of character after fullback Jason Raper and key back-rower Chris Lewis were called up to the Illawarra Cutters on match eve.
‘‘It was definitely our gutsiest win,’’ Powell said.
‘‘The withdrawals rocked the side...but the other boys just lifted.’’
Wests were also without a headliner in regular attacking general Nathan Dureau, who missed the match after sustaining a concussion in the Devils’ win over Collegians last week.
Former St George and North Queensland halfback Brett Firman filled in admirably in his first appearance in the the red and blue and controlled much of a brutal first half with his right boot.
Wests scored first just minutes before half-time after Bremner uncharacteristically spilled a Firman high ball. Mitch Porter scored in the corner after the ensuing scrum.
Porter’s sideline conversion was waved away leaving the score at 4-0.
Tigers substitute hooker Grant Smith scored from close range immediately after the interval and Eamon Hillen’s conversion gave the home side a 6-4 lead.
Though starved of football for the rest of the half, the Tigers refused to yield as the Devils desperately attacked their line. Bremner’s heroics and a late penalty goal to Hillen sealed the result at 8-4.