Illawarra coach Sean Barrett says he couldn't have asked for anything more from his side after it dragged itself off the canvas to claim victory in the Country Championships third-place playoff on Sunday.
The Illawarriors were handed the death slot for their opening fixture on Saturday, seeing off Central North 25-14 following and 8am kickoff on day one.
Backing up just two hours after fulltime, costly lapses either side of halftime saw their push at the ultimate prize end at the hands of defending champions Central Coast.
"For the guys to play three full games of footy over two days is pretty taxing," Barrett said.
"We had to come out of the blocks pretty early at eight o'clock [Saturday] morning against Central North, but we did really well in that game. It was a debut for a lot of guys so that was good, but we probably let ourselves down against Central Coast.
"They killed us just before, and straight after halftime when they scored converted tries and we just didn't play as well as we could have."
The day-one double left them nursing a number of key injuries, but the bounce back was emphatic, with Grant Iles, Simiki Lufe, Josaia Dakuitoga, Nico Cowley, Frank Prodger, Harri Hibbs and Reuben Thomas all getting across in an eight-try rout to finish on a high.
"We had to make some changes on a couple of injuries and some positional changes but we had a squad mentality and we were pretty ruthless. I can't fault the effort for the guys, they did everything I asked of them."
With a number of players debuting this year, the campaign bodes well for the future of the program.
"A lot of guys put their hand up to come away again next year," Barrett said.
"There were a lot of players making their debuts so we're in pretty good shape."
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