Forwards primed to launch Illawarra's Country title aspirations

Blake Phillips

Blake Phillips

RUGBY LEAGUE

Illawarra back-rower Blake Phillips subscribes fully to the old adage: forwards win matches and backs determine by how much.

While much of the attention in Saturday's Country Championship final will be on the abundance of talent out wide, the Helensburgh hard man knows the real key to Illawarra retaining their title rests on the shoulders of the men in the middle.

The Illawarra pack passed a stern first-up test against a willing Central Coast outfit last week, keeping them to just one try despite the weight of possession and field position being heavily stacked against them.

Phillips, who was a member of last year's championship-winning side, said the defensive effort was indicative of the spirit in a team determined to go back to back.

"Everyone was very pumped for the game. We knew after winning it last year we had a reputation to keep up," he said.

"It was very tough. All the sides have big forwards and we knew it was going to be an arm wrestle game.

"It was wet and muddy up there so it was a muddy battle but we knew it was going to be won in the forwards and our forwards were good enough to stick it to them and come out the other side.

"They had four or five sets on our line in that first half and we hung tough and kept them to one try so it was good to run away with it at the end."

Phillips expects an even tougher examination of their championship credentials against a Newcastle outfit still stinging after surrendering an early lead and ultimately their title in last year's final.

"Newcastle were a very tough team last year so we've got to really bring our best game and stick it to them," he said.

"We've been trying to keep it a bit casual but definitely in the back of everyone's mind they know what's at stake."

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