THEY looked no chance of losing, then no chance of holding on, but Wests found enough to hold off Thirroul 18-16 to claim their first Illawarra League crown in eight seasons on Sunday.
Having enjoyed the week off leading in, the Devils ran in four first-half tries to lead 18-0 at the break before a second-half fightback saw the Butchers get within two with 18 minutes to play.
It was a momentum wave that appeared unstoppable, but Wests did just that, repelling countless attacking raids down the stretch to claim a breakthrough title in their third decider in the last four seasons.
They did it the hard way, but coach Pete McLeod said he’s coached enough finals games against the Butchers to know his side was never going to cruise to victory despite a handy halftime buffer.
“It was never going to be easy, we knew that,” McLeod said.
“We had an outstanding first half but we spoke at halftime about the type of club and side Thirroul are. I said ‘they’re going to play 80 minutes here, we’re going to need to defend our line to win the game’.
“With 10 to go they could’ve given it up but they didn’t they stood their ground. I’m just so proud of them. It was never going to be effort that let them down.
“There were a few big plays at the back end from our experienced blokes, [Glenn] Stewart, [Luke] Towers, [Mitch] Porter, they really stood up when it mattered.”
Having himself come through the lower grades as a coach, McLeod said taking local juniors along for the ride made the win all the more satisfying.
“A lot gets said about Wests but we had eight local juniors play today so, to prove a point they way they did, I’m really proud of them,” he said.
“I’ve had a lot to do with a lot of these blokes over a long time, in the lower grades and as a [first grade] assistant. We haven’t got here and won since 2011 so I just couldn’t be prouder of them.”
Porter got the first half blitz underway in just the fourth minute, breaking through from his own half and leaving three cover defenders in his wake to score in the corner.
Zac Greene converted from the sideline for a 6-0 lead and it was 17 minutes before they crossed again when Josh Daley snuck over from close range.
Towers scooted over in the south-western corner nine minutes before the break and the Devils led 18-0 on the back of Porter’s second try 15 seconds before the siren.
They returned for the second with one hand on the trophy before a 50th minute try to Hayden Crosland set the comeback in motion. The match was right back on when centre Callum Tutauha left six defenders in his wake in a incredible 40-metre dash to the line four minutes later to cut the deficit back to eight.
Tom Simpson was denied a four-pointer by an obstruction call four minutes later but the Butchers were back within two when veteran Ty McCarthy grubbered for himself to score with his first touch after being injected from the bench.
The juggernaut appeared unstoppable with 18 minutes left, but the Devils found the desperation to scramble to victory making several huge defensive plays in the homes stretch to seal the win.
Butchers coach Jarrod Costello said his side’s first 40 minutes made the mountain to steep.
“The hole was just too deep,” Costello said.
“We missed the start and, full credit to Wests, they were awesome in that first half and we just weren’t good enough to start the game.
“At halftime I said ‘let’s write our own story here’. We knew when we got our fair share of the ball we’d create our own opportunities.
“We had to base it around defence and not concede another point, we did that, but unfortunately we couldn’t jag it at the end there.
“We had some 50-50 calls go against us. We had a try disallowed for obstruction and I watched the video on the sideline and it wasn’t an obstruction but that’s the way it goes.
“We knew we had it in us to come back into the game, I’m really proud of the effort, it’s just disappointing we couldn’t get it done.”