Northern rivals battle in grand final

Blake Phillips says the Tigers have learned from last year.Picture: GREG TOTMAN

Blake Phillips says the Tigers have learned from last year.Picture: GREG TOTMAN

RUGBY LEAGUE - ILLAWARRA COAL LEAGUE

Helensburgh forward Blake Phillips reckons it's fitting their chance to break a 21-year premiership drought will come against fierce rivals Thirroul, remarkably in the first northern derby grand final.

Since drawing 16-16 in round two, it took extra time to separate them in the finals, when the Butchers were first to qualify for the decider via a Nathan Fien field goal.

The Tigers battled their way to 22-16 win over Wests in the preliminary final a week later to ensure two of the league's most passionate fan bases will make the trip down Lawrence Hargrave Drive for the grand final.

It's something even Helensburgh football manager Col Doran - whose association with the Tigers goes back 45 years - has never seen.

"Thirroul and Helensburgh have never played in a grand final so this is a first," Doran said.

"Everyone's been talking about a Thirroul-Helensburgh grand final all year but when you've got quality teams like Wests and Collies it's always hard to predict.

"It's hard to get there, with the comp going back to six teams you're playing all good sides three times. It's as hard as it's ever been.

"Thirroul's been in a few, we were in a few in the 80s and we've been in a few the last few years but never played Thirroul.

"We've played them in a lot of great finals and knocked each other out a few times but never in a grand final so there should be a pretty big crowd there."

Star forward Phillips is expecting an electric atmosphere for the match which will pit sides one and two against each other in a fitting battle to decide the premiership.

"There's been a huge rivalry between us and Thirroul. We've been inseparable, we've been that close," Phillips.

"We had a draw the first game, one win each and a one-point loss to them in the major final. What a way to finish the year with a grand final between the two closest sides."

Phillips is confident that the Tigers' experience in going down by a single point in last year's grand final will help rather than hinder their bid to go one better.

"It's hard to forget losing like that but we've learned from it and we know where we've got to be at mentally to win," Phillips said.

"A lot of the boys were there last year and they know what it's like."

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