Illawarra returned to the winner's circle with a gutsy 20-14 victory over the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown Stadium on Saturday.
Illawarra were bolstered with the return of young livewire Jai Field from injury and his impact was immediate, crossing for the first try of the afternoon after prop Josh Kerr broke through the defence, linking up with the Albion Park-Oak Flats junior.
The Tigers replied quickly out wide through winger Nathan Milone, and would cross the stripe a short while later when a poor fifth tackle kick wasn’t collected by the visitors, allowing Jayden Wheelhouse to scoop up the Steeden and cross the stripe to extend their half-time lead to 8-6.
The hosts were the first to trouble the scorers after the break, with Wesley Lolo scoring an easy four-pointer from close range.
Illawarra responded after some razzle dazzle footy from Shaun Nona and Luciano Leliua put Field through a gap to race under the sticks for his second four-pointer of the afternoon.
Izaac Thompson would then stamp his mark on the game crossing out wide for the visitors, before being sin-binned moments later after an alleged punch. Bizarrely, Illawarra received the penalty 15 out from the posts, with Nona extending the lead with a penalty goal.
In a frantic final 10 minutes, Illawarra dug deep to run out 20-14 winners, setting up a mouth-watering Grand Final re-match next week at home against Mounties.
Illawarra 20 (J Field 2, I Thompson tries; S Nona 4 goals) def Wests Tigers 14 (N Milone, J Wheelhouse, W Lolo tries; J Hunt goal)