IT’S an old adage that you can’t coach speed, and Illawarra will have it in spades when livewire pair Matt Dufty and Jai Field re-unite for the Steelers semi-final clash with Canterbury on Sunday.
Dufty will return in the No. 1 jumper after a seven-game stint in the top grade with Field shifting to five-eighth a week after proving the match-winner against Mounties.
The 19-year-old scored a try and laid on another in the first half but it was his 79th minute long-range effort, with his side trailing by two, that sealed victory.
It’s not the only clutch play he’s produced over the latter half of the season as Illawarra scraped into the top-eight before stunning Mounties.
Having coached Field in the NYC last season, it came as no surprise to Illawarra coach Mat Head.
“You can’t teach speed, you can’t coach it, you can’t just find it, players have it or they don’t,” Head said.
“Fieldy’s certainly one of those players. He’s got a really bright future at the club and he’s been sensational for us this year.
“He’s had his ups and downs. He’s been put back down to the 20s, but he’s fought his way back to reserve grade and he’s become one of those clutch players.
“This week’s another challenge for him now that Duft’s come back to play fullback so Fieldy will go back to five-eighth which he played all last season with me.”
That Dufty-Field one-two punch worked well for Head in the NYC last season, with the pair combining for 37 tries as the young Dragons reached the prelim final.
That side also included Patrick Herbert – who scored 20 tries – Izaac Thompson, Luciano Leilua, Jack Payne and Blake Lawrie who will all line up against the Bulldogs.
“It’s going to be another step in Duft’s development, how he comes back and performs in this grade after he’s been outstanding in the seven games he got in first grade,” Head said.
“It’s going to be exciting for us to see how he faces that challenge.
“We’ve also got Blake Lawrie coming back from NRL level so we’re starting to put together a good team together that all played in the 20s last year.
“They’re still learning that it’s not all just about attack, there’s a lot of defence involved at this level and if you keep teams out for a longer period of time that’s when you have success.
“We’ve been learning through the year and I’ve always said, once we got to the finals, we were going to be an exciting footy team to watch and to have to play against.
“If we can keep our concentration in our defence, our attack speaks for itself. If we can fix our defensive lapses and concentration errors up hopefully we can earn ourselves another week.”
“It was a strange type of game, we were down by 12, then up 24-12 and it looked like it was all over and then a little bit of brilliance from Luch and Fieldy sealed the deal for us.
“It was a game I thought we weren’t really in and then one I thought we should’ve won convincingly and we got put under pressure a little bit. It was good to get the win anyway.
“Certainly. I coached the 20s last year and a lot of the boys I coached are in this team.
“It’s another learning thing for these kids. You want to win games and now that we’re in the finals we want to win [the comp] but the big picture is developing these players.
“Making sure they can play at the right times and Fieldy’s certainly showing he’s a clutch footy player.
It's pretty exciting for myself to watch these kids develop and hopefully if we can perform on Sunday we might get another victory.
“I think we match up pretty well against the Bulldogs.
“They are a strong team and they well try and out-muscle us and make our young fellas make some tackles but we also know they do tire at different stages.
“Any team can beat anyone. On the weekend seventh and eighth beat fifth and sixth so there’s no concerns that we can’t do it. We’ve just got to concentrate for the 80 minutes and give ourselves a chance because we’ve got some real strike weapons out there that can win us a game of footy.”