Illawarra Country coach Gavin Clinch backs his firepower

Halfback Eamon Hillen will play a key role in Illawarra's Country Championship title defence. Picture: LAUREN SPARKE

Halfback Eamon Hillen will play a key role in Illawarra's Country Championship title defence. Picture: LAUREN SPARKE

RUGBY LEAGUE

Illawarra coach Gavin Clinch is confident his side has the attacking arsenal to overcome perennial rivals Newcastle in Saturday's Country Championship final at Tamworth.

Newcastle were far from their best in their semi-final with Canberra last week, surrendering an early 16-0 lead before storming to a 34-28 victory.

Illawarra's tussle with Central Coast was a far tighter affair, with Coast leading 6-4 at half-time before the defending champions scored three second-half tries to win 22-6.

Cessnock trio Chris Adams and halves Joel and Riley Brown were instrumental in Newcastle's win, and in a match unlikely to offer many attacking opportunities, Clinch said the battle between the respective spines would likely decide Saturday's match.

"Their six, seven, nine and one are their strike players. They're the guys we really have to close down and get on top of," Clinch said.

"Riley Brown, their six, is a very good player and they can score points so we've got to get our defence right."

Clinch backed his quartet of Jimmy Storer, Eamon Hillen, Jarrod Boyle and Brad Scott to click into gear in only their second match as a combination.

Scott and Hillen scored tries against Central Coast and Boyle produced a crucial 40-20 midway through the second half in fine individual performances, but Clinch is expecting a far more cohesive team performance on Saturday.

"We've worked hard on that and they're all very comfortable with each other," he said.

"Central Coast was their first game together but they've done quite a bit together now so we're a lot more comfortable with that and confident it'll be OK."

Clinch has made just one change to his side, with Helensburgh's Jason Raper returning from Illawarra Cutters duty on the wing, forcing Tigers teammate Azan Turoa to 18th man.

He resisted the urge to make further changes despite very strong performances from the likes of Sam Clune and Benson Tupou from the interchange bench, preferring to again use them as strike weapons.

"The four guys that came off the bench really stepped it up and really pushed to start this week," he said.

"It was touch and go over whether a few come into the starting team but that strike off the bench was something really needed.

"We'll try to start well and we"ll need those guys to come on after 25 minutes and really pick it up."

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