RUGBY LEAGUE - ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE
Wests captain Matt Clarke says the Devils will look to use any psychological advantage taken from their 40-4 thrashing of Helensburgh three weeks ago when they meet again in Sunday’s preliminary final.
After setting the pace for much of the season, Helensburgh faltered against Wests, ending an unbeaten home run at Rex Jackson Oval.
It also allowed Thirroul to snatch the minor premiership from their grasp.
The loss appeared to rattle the Tigers, who were forced to come from behind to beat Collegians, before their narrow loss to Thirroul.
Only a Nathan Fien field goal in the dying stages of the second half of golden point extra time denied the Burgh a place in the grand final.
After an epic 90 minutes, the Tigers have to regroup quickly ahead of Sunday’s match against Wests, the only team to have registered two wins against them this season.
Clarke said the Devils would look to seize on any mental fragility lingering from either encounter.
‘‘They had the game wrapped up virtually but in extra time they didn’t put it away. Hopefully that’ll be playing on their minds and they’ll be thinking ‘if we lose this one we’re out the back door’,’’ Clarke said.
‘‘Hopefully for us, as well, the win that we had up there over them in the second last round is playing on their mind a little bit and we can go into the game knowing that we had that big win over them. But it’s a different game and hopefully we can put on another good performance like that on Sunday.
‘‘We’ve got nothing to lose but in saying that we want to do all the right things first before we worry about the win.’’
While he hopes the heavy loss is weighing on the Tigers’ minds, Clarke expects Sunday’s match to be much more akin to their epic battle in the second round, won by the Tigers 6-4 in a thriller.
‘‘There was only two points in that game and it was a real tight arm wrestle-type of game,’’ Clarke said.
‘‘I’d say it’ll be similar this week because I don’t think either side will want to take too many risks. I know Helensburgh complete at a high rate, they’re usually above 80per cent every game, so it’ll definitely be an arm wrestle and we’ll need to match them set for set.’’
Wests will need a steep improvement on their last-start 32-18 win over Collies in the minor semi-final, a performance which attracted criticism from the Devils’ own coaching staff.
‘‘There’s definitely a lot of areas we can improve. You’re always happy with the win but we let ourselves down a bit there in the second half by not completing and letting them back into the game,’’ Clarke said.
‘‘We seemed to be playing catch-up footy when we were well in front and well in control of the game. It’ll be a different story this week if we do that because Helensburgh are too good a side, they’ll make us pay.’’
Thirroul captain-coach Nathan Fien put a lid on celebrations despite booking a grand final berth via his golden-point heroics in an epic semi-final clash with Helensburgh.
The Butchers were locked 18-all with the Tigers in what was their fourth tough encounter for the year in the major semi-final at WIN Stadium before Fien’s field goal from dummy-half in the second half of golden point extra time sealed the win.
Fien, however, said he clamped down on the understandable elation after the match.
‘‘While we are in the grand final, nothing’s been won as yet. It’s one thing getting there, it’s another thing being able to hold up the trophy on grand final day,’’ Fien said.
‘‘We still have a standard and there’s still 80 minutes of football for the Thirroul footy club, and we’re going to need to be at our best to compete with either Helensburgh or Wests. They’re two very classy sides, and we’re not getting ahead of ourselves or taking anything for granted.
‘‘We’re a footy side that earns everything we get once we cross that white stripe, and we know that there’s going to be a tough encounter against whoever progresses through.’’
The win continued the Butchers’ uncanny knack of getting away with close victories this season, and Fien said the win under pressure was a confidence booster for his side.
‘‘It does give you a bit of confidence to win those close ones, particularly against Helensburgh who we’ve had some great battles with this year,’’ he said.
With the Butchers having several experienced players over 30, Fien welcomed having a week off before the grand final.
‘‘For me it’s awesome and we’ve got a few other older guys, Brent Grose, Jimmy Feeney and Beathy [Aaron Beath], so for guys like that we’ll enjoy the week off.’’